Sao Paulo Police Accused of Reprisal Killings

Gang-related violence in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, has claimed nearly 200 lives in the last week. Now a police crackdown on the violence is raising alarms. Officers are accused of rounding up suspects, shooting them in cold blood and burying the victims in mass graves. Human-rights advocates claim innocent people are being killed and fear police are carrying out reprisal killings.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the guilty verdict in the Enron fraud and conspiracy trial. We'll have more on that in our MARKEPLACE segment.

BRAND: First though, a week after unprecedented gang violence terrorized the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, police now are under scrutiny. Authorities responded to the criminal killing spree that targeted police with a major crackdown. The final death toll in the violence reached more than 100 people. Now, there are allegations that police pursued revenge murders. The public prosecutor has given law enforcement officials until today to turn over the names of those people killed.

From Sao Paulo, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY reporting:

One question has consistently dogged law enforcement officials at their press briefings on the upheaval in Sao Paulo.

(Soundbite of men speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Who, reporters asked, did the police kill? And when will they release their identities? The besieged public security secretary later said such sensitive matters cannot be rushed.

(Soundbite of man speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Behind every person, there's an identification. And there's no chance, he said, of corpses disappearing. More than 150 people died in the open warfare between police and the criminal group known at the PCC. Its members attacked police stations, burned public buses, and killed 43 law enforcement officials.

Residents and human rights group say that humiliated police swept through neighborhoods, gunning down more than 100 people. Of that total, police say 79 were connected to the PCC, and that an additional 31 committed lesser offenses. But Deputy Chief Public Defender Pedro Jiaberchi(ph) says those 31 were also slain in circumstances known as resistance followed by death.

Mr. PEDRO JAIBERCHI (Deputy Chief Public Defender, Sao Paulo): The public defenders want to know what happened to these people, why they were killed, what kind of resistance, and were they armed? You know. What kind of resistance did they offer in order to allow such a reaction?

MCCARTHY: State Representative Renato Simoes - who chaired the assembly's human right's commission for eight years - says the forceful way police responded plays well among a public that has convinced itself that violence will defeat violence.

Mr. REANTO SIMOES (State Representative, Sao Paulo): If police cannot protect themselves, if they cannot protect us, the let's kill everybody who we suspect. And this strong answer is against the law.

MCCARTHY: Colonel Luis Carlos dos Santos of the Association of Military Police officials say if individual police abuse their power, they should be punished. If superiors allowed trigger happy police to exact revenge, then the leadership should be held to account, but dos Santos says that police were victimized too, when officials who claimed advance knowledge of the attacks on police stations failed to issue any warning.

Colonel LUIS CARLOS DOS SANTOS (Association of Military Police, Brazil): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Our police are just not prepared to deal with organized criminal attacks, he says. We've asked for bullet proof vests, armored police stations, and more powerful guns, but nothing ever happens.

(Soundbite of motor vehicles)

MCCARTHY: It's in the bleak suburbs of badly lit streets where Sao Paulo's poor reside and where the police conducted their toughest raids last week.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: This week, a group of young men from Brazo Janga(ph) on the northern edge of the city practices the music and moves of capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial arts. The troops share similar stories of insults and racism at the hands of the police, and talks of a constant sense of insecurity.

Thirty-four-year-old social worker Jenado Jesus Onorio(ph) says police routinely humiliate citizens doing nothing more than walking on the street.

Mr. JENADO JESUS ONORIO (Social Worker, Sao Paulo): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: They say, put your hands on your head, you tramp. If we answer back, he says, they say they're going to kill us and then hit us. And if they can't find anything wrong, Onorio says, they might try to incriminate us with phony evidence.

Residents here say they tend to trust the criminals more than the police. Families who claim their innocent relatives were killed in the police operations began meeting public defenders today. The public prosecutor has demanded a halt to burials of those who died until the forensic evidence has been compiled on each victim.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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