Cops have already murdered hundreds of people in Brazil’s slums—favelas—this year, with police raids and repressions intensifying under lockdown conditions. Police in Rio de Janeiro killed 177 people in April alone—and 1,814 in 2019, the highest number since records began in 1998.
Brazilian journalist Michel Silva, who’s helping to build the protest, said it was “Against the genocide of the black people, against the violence of the police that does not stop even in the pandemic.”
Brazil’s police are among most murderous in the world. That’s almost entirely down to their military style raids on the favelas, making the killings of poor, mostly black, people almost a fact of daily life.
They’re emboldened by far right president Jair Bolsonaro, who promised his supporters he’d unleash the police on a “law and order” campaign.
To add to the already horrific death toll, Brazil’s favela residents also have to contend with one of the highest coronavirus death and infection rates in the world.
Brazil became the country with the third highest total coronavirus death toll on Friday of this week. Officially more than 34,000 people in Brazil have died of coronavirus, and more than 615,000 been infected.
Yet Bolsonaro has actively opposed any attempts to limit the spread of the virus.
As regional governments of Brazilian states imposed lockdown measures, Bolsonaro worked to undermine them—declaring gyms and barbers “essential” businesses for instance. Not only that, he encouraged and even joined protests against the lockdowns.
He repeatedly insisted that keeping Brazil’s economy running as normal was more important than controlling the pandemic.
The people who bear the brunt are the majority black population of the vast crowded favelas, often so poor they can’t afford to stop work.
Violent police incursions into the favelas significantly decreased near the start of the coronavirus crisis in March. According to the Network of Security Observatories monitoring body there was a 23 percent decrease in police operations.
But by April they were back. Incursions lasted hours, cops tearing homes apart in house raids and firing live ammunition. The raids badly disrupted attempts by volunteers and activists to organise aid and medicine during the outbreak.
Speaking in April, Buba Aguiar, a resident of the Acari favela in Rio de Janeiro, said, “Until last week, things were looking positive. Operations weren’t happening and the streets were really empty.
“Now the operations are happening with much greater frequency, with the use of armoured vehicles and gunfire. At the same time, the streets have gotten more crowded. So we have two worries—the same one as always, which is the risk of someone getting shot or killed, and the spread of the virus.”