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A Romantic Stroll Through Rio By Night

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Giuliana Vallone of the Folha de S. Paulo moments after being struck full in the face by a police rubber bullet

By: Roger McNaught, via Brasilianas

Translation: C. Brayton

Report on confrontations with police during Rio demonstration

Regarding the July 11 demonstration in Rio:

I have worked as an independent journalist and videographer in Rio for some time now. I have seen a lot of violence in my day, but nothing like what I witnessed yesterday. Having been present at a succession of excesses committed by the military police at various moments during the rally, I owe it to the reader to relate the most grotesque (although they will come as no surprise those who live far from the city center.)

To start with, the unnecessary use of firearms. As a group of demonstrators was dispersing on the Avenida Chile, I witness a curious incident: a police patrol car arriving at top speed and braking abruptly as the policeman sitting shotgun extended his arm out the window and fired his weapon at random. Obviously, as a journalist, I immediately focused my camera and, as the officer dismounted the vehicle, tried to record what manner of beast had fired those rounds. I was successful, but I paid a price: As I was taking the shot, I was struck in the back by a rubber bullet. This was an obvious attempt to protect the trooper in question from being identified. I should emphasize that I was nowhere near the demonstrators. I was with a group of other reporters. Ergo … the rubber bullet was “addressed” to the journalists present.

From there, I proceeded to Laranjeiras, where the rally was to continue, and where I witnessed another sad chapter of police brutality.

As I arrived, I witnessed a peaceful, orderly demonstration whose ranks were swelled by supportive local residents, growing larger by the minute.

At a certain point the “dispersal,” planned in advance by the military police, began. Police herded demonstrators into small groups, vandalizing the constitutional rights of those present, using excessive force on the narrow residential streets and counting on the support of supposed demonstrators, one of whom I later interviewed and was able to identify, from his manner of speech and his attitude, as a police infiltrator.

At various moments during the incident these would appear bearing “suspicious artifacts” that they alleged to be explosives used by demonstrators. What is odd is that at no point did I see demonstrators using any artifacts more complex than trash cans and recycling bins.  On this pretext, passersby were disrespected and humiliated in the search for more of these artifacts.

After wandering through this climate of excess for a time, we returned to the Guanabara Palace. There we found a much more exacerbated situation.

Police without identification and refusing to identify themselves were assaulting persons who were seated on the ground.

Upon the arrival of the press, they commenced gratuitous attacks with gas and flash bombs launched at point blank range. At that moment, when very few demonstrators and a fair number of journalists were on the scene, the journalists were clearly the prime target.

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The water cannon was used to damage the equipment of camera operators on the scene … and bombs were hurled at the buildings of local residents who expressed disapproval of police truculence.  Journos and demonstrators took shelter in local buildings and a clinic, which were also targeted by bombs.

At that moment, everyone and everything became the target of a police who said they were unafraid of being filmed because they enjoyed what they were doing. The commander of the police action refused to speak with an Army paratrooper colleague who identified himself and, with all due respect to his uniformed colleagues, pleaded for the end of the abuses. The only response was more water cannon fire and tear gas.

A number of journalists were herded onto a smaller street and prevented from joining a group of lawyers at the clinic — an obvious attempt to prevent the journos from receiving aid of any sort.  I witnessed an elderly photographer be forbidden to leave the scene, or even to move up onto the sidewalk. Police announced on loudspeakers that constitutional rights of those presence would be respected only if the police permitted it.  A guide working for a British photographer was summarily assaulted, after which the journalist himself was loaded into a shock troop van.

After a few minutes of escalating violence, some of us managed to hook up with the lawyers at the clinic, where we were besieged for half an hour or so.  As persons were treated for bomb shrapnel injuries, OAB representatives tried to negotiate an end to the horror: people with shrapnel wounds to the head, point-blank rubber bullet impacts, and other injuries.

After a lengthy negotiation, attended by an army of lawyers, we were escorted to the subway stop by an OAB contingent, closely followed by military police who lost no opportunity to provoke psychological tension in order to find some motive for preventing the journalists and demonstrators from leaving. Lawyers tried without success to get these PMs to back off, arguing that the PM were not following the plan agreed upon in advance. The only response received was mockery from PM officers.

Later, I went to the state judicial police precinct, accompanied by OAB lawyers, in order to file a complaint against the PMs. And you know what the funny thing was? The response I received from the precinct was merely one more form of violence. They refused to register my complaint. they accused me of being drunk … and when my lawyer insisted, we heard the most insulting comment of all: “Oh, take your case to unified internal affairs, they’re over by DETRAN.”

And that’s the way it was. But I plan to carry on, I am going to go after these people. …