Recently released video of a police shootout in a Brazilian slum has ignited controversy in Rio de Janeiro, raising important questions about the city's crackdown on crime ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics — both of which will be hosted in Rio.
The black-and-white video, captured using heat-seeking technology last May, was recorded from a police helicopter during a pursuit of Márcio José Sabino Pereira — a 36-year-old convicted drug trafficker who went by the name "Mathematician." The helicopter tracks Mathematician through the densely populated slum of Favela da Coréia, before unloading a torrent of bullets just as he entered a car. As the New York Times reports, some of these bullets hit buildings surrounding the car, though it's not clear whether any bystanders were injured. Mathematician's body was found a day later, with authorities calling his death a "resistance killing."
In a statement issued at the time of the operation, Rio police justified the assault by claiming that Mathematician had fired on officers earlier in the day. But the issue came under renewed scrutiny this week when Globo, a Brazilian news network, aired the full video during a broadcast Sunday evening. Amid the outcry from humanitarian groups and promises of further investigation, police are now acknowledging that they may have crossed the line.
"This image leads us to admit that there could have been a disproportionate action."
"This image leads us to admit that there could have been a disproportionate action," Martha Rocha, head of Rio’s Civil Police, told the New York Times. But Adonis Lopes de Oliveira, the helicopter's commander, seemed to dismiss any risk of injury to civilians in an interview with Globo, telling the network, "That street was frequented largely by traffickers."
The controversy comes at a time of heightened tensions across Rio, where authorities have been furiously preparing for the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games. Most of their efforts have focused on the city's notorious favelas — expansive, crime-ridden slums controlled by druglords and militias. Some of the cleanup has been welcomed by locals, but other policies — including a campaign to demolish 3,000 homes — have elicited greater outrage. It remains unclear whether this week's video will bring about any change in Rio's agenda, though officials will likely face more scrutiny in the months to come.