Taking on police violence in Rio's embattled Complexo do Alemão favela
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Taking on police violence in Rio's embattled Complexo do Alemão favela

Last Monday, about 220 people attended a public hearing on human rights violations at the Caic Theóphilo de Souza Pinto School, in Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo do Alemão favela.

The meeting was organized by Brazil’s Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI), after the first three months of 2015 were filled with violent murders committed by police officers.

The school is currently being used as a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) base while the official police building is being renovated. A few days after the event, however, the pacifying police coordinating body announced they would remove the base from the school, symbolizing a small victory for the community.

Vestiges of shootouts between police and gangs can be seen on the school building; the main wall is covered in bullet holes. The removal of the UPP base, slated for some time this month, was one of several demands from community leaders at Monday’s meeting.

The UPP began the pacification project in Nova Brasília, inside Complexo do Alemão, in 2012. Yet since its implementation, the community has continued to be plagued by violence.

Bullet holes mark the main wall of a school in Complexo do Alemão. A UPP base is currently occupying school grounds.

Bullet holes mark the main wall of a school in Complexo do Alemão. A UPP base is currently occupying school grounds. Photo: Elma Gonzalez

The hearing — the first such event held by the CPI outside of the capital of Brasília — was organized in collaboration with the Human Rights and Education Commission of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro (Alerj) and 17 community associations.

The goal of the event, according to organizers, was to generate concrete ideas for change and to allow a space where community voices could be “heard and respected.” However, some residents left the event disappointed on this second count, as only three favela residents were allowed time to speak at the end of the hearing.

Representatives from the State Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission, the Military Police, the State Education Department, and the State Social Assistance and Human Rights Department sat on the 12-member panel. The panel also included three community residents chosen by Alemão leaders.

Each member of the panel was allowed time to speak in a discussion moderated by congressman Marcelo Freixo.

Violence is not inevitable

Denize Moraes, mother of a young mototaxi driver allegedly killed by the Military Police, kicked off the three-hour discussion by giving an account of her experience with the UPP and asking the government to rethink the pacification project. She said that the security forces who are supposed to be protecting community members are killing them instead.

Researched Thiago Matiolli followed Moraes by saying the police violence in Alemão comes from the common perception that violence is an inevitable characteristic in a favela, not a product of social circumstances. This attitude comes from the institutional criminalization of poverty, he said.

Mothers who have lost their sons to the violence in Complexo do Alemão hang posters in the auditorium. Photo: Elma Gonzalez

Udson Freitas, a representative of the Juntos Pelo Complexo do Alemão community organization, added that people in the community have lost any trust they had in the authorities.

“All bases have good and bad cops,” he said. “Unfortunately, they bring the bad ones here and send the good ones to the South Zone.”

After a resident narrated a moving anecdote about being beaten by the police, police official Colonel Ibis Silva Pereira responded to the criticism by apologizing on behalf of the police forces.

“No cop is educated to punch someone in the face; zero, none of us have that type of training,” he said. “But that does not mean it doesn’t happen in real situations, so I want to apologize for that.”

Who protects the students?

Marquinhos Pepé, president of the Resident’s Association of Palmeiras, said he initially supported the UPP pacification project. However, he said, it has become evident that the UPP brings violence to the community if it is not accompanied by other social projects.

Matheus Mendes and Guilherme Moreira, teachers at the Caic Teophilo da Souza school, said the arrival of the UPP has had negative effects on students’ and teachers’ safety and attendance.

Moreira revealed that before the UPP was implemented, 1,400 students attended the school, a number that has since decreased to 700. The UPP base that will soon be removed from school grounds has been a factor in this drop in attendance, according to Moreira.

“We either keep the school or the UPP, because it is not possible for both to coexist,” he said.

Complexo do Alemão residents surround a representative from the mayor’s office outside of the auditorium to ask questions. Photo: Elma Gonzalez

The panel was interrupted several times by frustrated audience members who wanted to relate their own experiences with police brutality. However, most of the time was taken up by the political representatives on the panel.

At the end of the hearing, four selected audience members — community activist Mariluce Mariá, Instituto Raízes em Movimento representative Alan Brum Pinheiro, community resident André Luiz Fernandes and community activist Leandro Souza — were given the microphone to voice their concerns and demands.

After the event, Mariá said she saw the hearing as extremely symbolic for the community. However, she admitted that many left unsatisfied with the lack of audience participation.

“When a resident receives notice about a hearing like this one, they understand that they should come to speak, that everyone can speak,” she said. “That is why people were angry. The majority of the audience were moms of the students here, and they all had something to say.”

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