Brazil: Rio favela residents rally after 8-year-old shot dead

Hundreds gather in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro to protest after child is killed by stray bullet during police operation.

A woman holds a sign with a message that reads in Portuguese: "More school, less bullets" in front of police officers during a protest
A woman holds a sign during Saturday's protest with a message that reads in Portuguese: 'More school, less bullets' [Leo Correa/AP]

Hundreds of residents in one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighbourhoods have marched to demand an end to violence in the Brazilian city after an eight-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet during a police operation.

Saturday’s rally, which featured shouts of “Justice! Justice!”, came after Agatha Sales Felix was shot dead in the Complexo do Alemao favela on Friday amid what police said was a shoot-out with suspected criminals.

Officials confirmed her death and said an investigation into the incident had been opened.

According to the police’s account of events, cited by the Associated Press news agency, officers were standing in a corner when they were attacked from various directions.

They responded to the attack, but there were no reports of other people being injured or arrested during the incident, AP reported.

However, some Complexo do Alemao residents blamed Felix’s death on police, who have killed more than 1,200 people in Rio de Janeiro state so far this year during their operations. 

“There was no shoot-out when Agatha was hit,” Renata Trajana told AP. “We know the atrocities that are happening here.”

TRANSLATION: Residents of Complexo do Alemao are currently holding a demonstration … in the favela over the death of eight-year-old Agatha Felix.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, slammed the eight-year-old’s killing, saying Rio’s authorities had failed to “fulfill their constitutional duty to protect a unique and fragile life”.

“How long will we insist on a public security policy that makes the state, which should protect all of us, violate our right to life?” the organisation asked on Saturday in a series of posts on Twitter.

“We demand that the state assume its responsibility to protect the human right to life of all, regardless of their race and regardless of their place of residence,” it added.

‘Trail of victims’

Police killings in Rio de Janeiro state – of which poor, black citizens are disproportionate victims – have soared under Governor Wilson Witzel’s watch.

Police in the state killed 1,249 people in the first seven months of this year – more than five a day – marking a more than 16 percent increase compared with the same period in 2018, according to Rio’s Public Security Institute (ISP). 

The rise means police lethality in Rio has reached its highest level since 2003, when records began.

Meanwhile, according to the non-government violence monitor Crossfire, a growing number of people are hit, often killed, each year by stray bullets – some fired by criminals, some by police. There were 225 deaths by stray bullets last year and more than 100 so far this year, the monitor told AP last month.

Witzel, who assumed office at the beginning of January, has previously pledged to “slaughter” criminals by using helicopter-borne snipers and warned that Rio would “dig graves” for those breaking the law under his leadership as part of his promised crackdown on the drug gangs who rule many of the state’s favelas.

In July, he shrugged off earlier ISP figures documenting the surge in police killings as “normal”, saying it was due to the police “hitting hard” at criminals.

“Nobody wants to kill bandits. We want to arrest them,” Witzel said. “But they need to know we are going to act with rigour. When we arrive, they either surrender or die.”

Homicides by criminals have fallen by more than 21 percent in Rio under Witzel’s governorship, according to the ISP.

A former judge with a military past, the 51-year-old was a relative unknown in Brazilian politics prior to his election win in October last year.

But his tough-on-crime stance found favour with many voters concerned by insecurity and has helped align him with the security message put forward by Brazil‘s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Addressing Witzel’s rhetoric and record, Amnesty on Saturday called on Rio’s governor to “prevent and combat violence intelligently, taking into consideration that all lives matter”.

“Don’t leave a trail of victims that should be protected by the state, like Agatha and more than a thousand people killed this year alone by public security officials in Rio de Janeiro,” said the organisation.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies