Violence in São Paulo is a response from criminals to police actions, say authorities - Brazilian News

More than 250 policemen and civilians have lost their lives in the war against crime

by Rafaela Rocha

           Brazil’s national security has always been a topic for heated discussions among experts and lays. Once again, the issue gains the front pages of newspapers and websites around the world as the wave of violence in the biggest city of the country, São Paulo, spreads. The recent events have already accounted for more than 90 deaths of policemen; the deaths of civilians amount more than 200, and numbers are doomed to increase as government and police work together trying to solve the situation.

The wave of violence had its start on May 28 when a São Paulo military special force took down 6 members of a criminal organization called PCC [First Command of the Capital, in Portuguese], which aims at defending the rights of imprisoned people in Brazil. PCC leaders state that one of the men captured that night was killed after surrendering to the police. An official investigation declared the policemen innocent. The fact triggered a violent response from the organization, and such response was worsened after the military operations continued to arrest and kill other criminals – according to a piece published by the Brazilian newspaper Estadão on November 17th, the Command decreed that for every criminal killed, two policemen should die. Ever since May, armed men have been riding the city of São Paulo on motorcycles, shooting policemen; however, innocent civilians have lost their lives as well, mainly on crossfire.

          The events have been reported by the media regularly, but the violence reached its peak during October and early November, and all eyes have been watching Brazil carefully. The wave of violence and deaths is certainly a matter of concern, not only for locals, but also for the world: with the upcoming major events on sports taking place in Brazil from 2013 to 2016, the international press has a lot to talk about.

          Nonetheless, government and police forces are working together in order to erase, or at least reduce, violence. Special committees have been assembled to create measures and polices that will help shrink the power of the organized crime in the country. One of the major problems that authorities face is the poor infrastructure of the prison system, which allows inmates to communicate to the outside, organize and even lead attacks not only to policemen, but also to banks, companies, and individuals. The joint intelligence centers aim at increasing surveillance on points where drugs are smuggled into Brazil, such as airports and highways. Inmates under suspicion of ordering attacks will be transferred to maximum security prisons where they are forced to stay away from their gangs and cannot communicate with the members of the group outside.

               In late October, the governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, stated in an interview the rise in the attacks gains force due to the participation of the media in broadcasting the acts performed by criminal groups. The governor says that the media is making “too much drama” about the events; he also adds that publicity seems to be one of the goals of PCC, and the media is reinforcing their actions by giving them prominence through the news. Alckmin is concerned that the way the news are presented may start a “campaign against São Paulo”. According to him, the amount of the deaths is proportional to the size of the state, and the media has to be careful not to inflict panic on the population.
             That may be one side of it, but the fact is that the attacks, slaughters and buses set on fire are doing enough on their own to establish panic around. Authorities affirm that the violence is a response to the prisons, transferences, and deaths of criminals; however, more and more civilians are becoming casualties in the war between the police and the gangs. It is not impossible to imagine that the families of the victims have a hard time accepting that the deaths of their loved ones are among the expected numbers in a situation like this.

           International newspapers highlight the events in Brazil: BBC has published several notes on the development of events and preventive actions; the Miami Herald talks about the rise of violence and mentions curfew orders in São Paulo and its metropolitan area; the International Business Times highlights the increase on the security in public spaces as well the transference of inmates; the Argentinean El Clarín talks about the cancellation of nocturnal masses in São Paulo as a way to motivate people not to leave their homes at night.

          Experts on security alert to the extremely bad conditions inmates face inside prisons due to overcrowding, and they also point out the misuse of federal budgets destined to change the situation. Another important issue yet to be dealt with by Brazilian authorities is the lack of rehabilitation for prisoners: the national prison system nowadays is unable to reintegrate the individual to society. The lack of investment and interest is often the main cause of rebellions led by inmates. That, of course, does not justify PCC’s actions and violence, but it cannot be ignored for it is a serious problem worth looking into.
          A national security crisis has been dismissed by authorities, but the recent events in São Paulo and the metropolitan area may be a symptom of a deeper problem that can make Brazil stumble on its way to the top.

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