RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Last week in a northern Rio suburb, military police opened fire on a car and killed five young men inside. They shot more than 50 bullets into the vehicle.
Authorities have offered no evidence that the five victims were involved in crime. Local media reported that military police attempted to alter the crime scene. The four agents involved in the shooting have since been arrested, and their commanding officer has been sacked.
The shooting victims were nonwhite and ages 16 to 20, the latest victims of a devastating attack by law enforcement on Brazilian young men of color. A recent study showed 79 percent of Brazilians killed by police were nonwhite.
In the United States, repeated police shootings have caused a public outcry. But in Rio de Janeiro, where they happen way more often, the response has mostly been limited to the local neighborhoods where they occur.
More from GlobalPost: #BlackLivesMatter has gone global. And Brazil needs it — badly
This week the victims’ families and supporters held a short rally and press conference, some carrying a Brazilian flag meant to look riddled with bullets. Those scenes caught the nation’s interest for a few minutes; then people moved on to the latest environmental disaster or political scandal.
But online the debate has raged on. An article on the Globo.com news site garnered first dozens, then hundreds of comments from supporters of the victims — and also from those who cheered on the killers.
Here are a few online reactions that help sum up the debate over police conduct in Brazil, where according to one report being shot by a cop is the second-highest cause of violent death.
According to a poll by Brazil’s Datafolha in October, 50 percent of Brazilians agree with the phrase “A good bandit is a dead bandit.” In a country plagued by violent crime, many Brazilians have little or no sympathy for alleged criminals who are killed by cops. Like Mesquita, some people are willing to give the military police the benefit of the doubt, even if they’ve since been arrested for the shooting. (Forty-six people gave the comment a thumbs-up and 185 gave a thumbs-down.)
Brazil’s military police are woefully undertrained, underpaid and underprepared, according to a 2014 report by the Brazilian Public Security Forum and other nonprofits. A lack of police trainingalso became apparent during Brazil’s 2013 antigovernment protests and 2014 World Cup demonstrations. Earlier this year, former military police officers told Agencia Publica, a nonprofit investigative journalism group, that the police unit’s training focuses too much on force, brainwashing recruits and teaching little about nonviolent solutions to encounters.
Police violence in Brazil against young, nonwhite residents of "favelas" or slums is worse than levels seen in the US. In Rio, police were responsible for more than 1 of every 6 homicides between 2010 and 2013. In the wake of this latest shooting, residents of the favela where these men were shot told local media they feel terrified to step outside their house in the morning. As GlobalPost examined in October, Brazil has a growing #BlackLivesMatter movement that's focused on centering the police violence debate on race. But, so far at least, nothing has been able to stop the constant drumbeat of police shootings.