Los Angeles Times
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The five bodies in the bar were riddled with bullets fired at almost point-blank range. Four of the dead were boys no older than 16. The admitted gunmen: police officers carrying out a raid in a squalid shantytown.
But in this seaside city that has become hostage to gruesome acts of violence, the killings this month barely caused a stir, in stark contrast to a bus burning by suspected drug traffickers the same week, which also killed five people. That incident was front-page news.
The lack of outrage illustrates the growing public indifference toward alleged police brutality in a society that is increasingly accustomed to such harsh measures and even, at times, supportive of them in the fight against spiraling crime.
Brazil, the biggest country in Latin America, has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. At the same time, the number of killings by police has climbed steeply, even though, activists say, the authorities' frequent use of lethal force has failed to put a dent in crime.
In Rio de Janeiro state alone, police killed nearly 1,200 people in 2003, according to figures compiled by the local nonprofit group Global Justice — an astonishing average of more than three people a day.
The overwhelming majority of victims are young black or mixed-race males who live in the city's favelas, the teeming slums that blanket Rio's hillsides.
The favelas have become personal fiefdoms of drug kingpins. Fearful residents find themselves caught between the iron rule of their local drug lords and the repressive tactics of police who regularly invade their neighborhoods in military-style operations.