By H. Prado
4 and 7 years old. Those were the ages of Rebecca and Emily Victoria, cousins who were brutally shot in the Favela do Barro Vermelho in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro. The incident occurred on the 4th of December, when both girls were playing and lost bullets hit them in the abdomen and head, respectfully.
Family members assert that they witnessed the local police carrying out the shootings, adding that they did not know whether they were there in pursue of a case. Lídia dos Santos, the girls’ grandmother, affirmed that she “heard at least ten shots being fired”. Nevertheless, authorities claim that, although the 15th battalion were patrolling on a nearby street, no discharges occurred, making this another case of the police’s words against low-income civilians.
Following a protest in the neighbourhood, the Delegacia de Homicidios da Baixada Fluminense is investigating the case, and the legal medical institute claims to have found bullet fragments that will be compared against the police’s rifles and pistols. In any case, one of the suspects has already been arrested, but he is expected to be released due to the police’s “carte-blanche” in relation to favela shootouts.
Shortly after their deaths, the girls’ funeral occurred, with Emily being buried in the Princess Moana Disney costume that she wished to wear for her upcoming fifth birthday. Her father reportedly passed out several times in the ceremony but was able to make avid critiques to the government, mentioning that there are locals besides him, but no governor, mayor or city councilmen appeared, suggesting the extent of governmental abandonment in these regions.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, with 12 children already having died from firearm shootings in Rio de Janeiro this year (according to Rio da Paz, NGO) and UNICEF research showing that Brazil is the fifth country to kill most children and teenagers worldwide. Additionally, between 2011 and 2017, the number of young adults to have been killed by the police have tripled, going from 55 to 193. This contributes to the statistic that 77% of adolescents report psychological issues caused by the uncertainty of living in favelas, making them take the literal and figurative bullet for the war on crime.
Other victims include Ágatha Félix (8 years old), Kauan Rosário (11) and Kauê Ribeiro dos Santos. Moreover, there have been such brutal shootings that a school in the Complexo da Maré has placed a sign on its rooftop outlining that it is an educational facility in efforts to contain the violence that comes from helicopter and sniper shootings.
Over the years, there have been studies about police’s abuse of force in order to contain crime in favelas and how these overly aggressive operations many times have unintended consequences. However, that is not given enough importance, as these situations are many times covered up and the police is given a “free pass” due to the lack of media interference and lack of interest in the lives of the poorer citizens. Rarely, there are apologies and promises of change, but many claim that the problem is abet by the government’s brutal policies in which authorities raid favelas with snipers, firearms and helicopters, inconsiderate of the innocent children who live there.
On the other hand, the Rio de Janeiro governor maintains that it is civilians’ fault that these shootings occur. He claims that this is due to the position that they put the government in as a result of their drug usage, leaving officials no choice but to act aggressively to stop it.
While authorities and critics to the government argue about how to best deal with crime, it is clear that the current policies are not effective and that measures need to be taken for this to stop occurring in the future or else children in favelas will continue to ‘live a life of fear’ (Social Scientist Silvia Ramos).