The first three months of 2016 saw a 10 percent increase in homicides by police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil over the same period in 2015, according to a recent report by Amnesty International.
Police killings in Rio have increased 54 percent since 2014, when Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup. The Summer Olympics are scheduled to take place in Rio in August.
The recent police killings appear to be racially motivated — most of the victims are young, black men from marginalized parts of Rio.
“Despite the promised legacy of a safe city for hosting the Olympic Games, killings by the police have been steadily increasing over the past few years in Rio,” Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil, said. “Many have been severely injured by rubber bullets, stun grenades and even firearms used by police forces during protests. Until now, killings by police have for the most part not been investigated, rigorous training and clear operational guidelines for the use of ‘less-lethal’ weapons have not been established and the authorities still treat protesters like a ‘public enemy.'”
Rio is not the only place in Brazil to experience widespread police brutality. Sao Paulo saw a huge increase in police brutality in 2014. Between January and September 2014, police officers murdered 478 civilians during confrontations, about twice as many victims as the same time period in 2013. However, Sao Paulo’s police department blamed the increase on a simple rise in criminal culture rather than racial tensions.
The recent police killings in Rio draw parallels to racially-motivated police brutality in the United States.
“Protests in Ferguson and similarly militarized reactions from the police have also called into question the militarization of U.S. municipal police forces,” human rights advocacy website Wola.org reported on the similarities between police brutality in Ferguson and the militarized reactions of Brazilian police. “And, as in Brazil, the broader public suddenly became conscious of police practices that communities of color throughout the country have experienced regularly… The outcry over Ferguson resonated in Brazil.”
The Summer Olympics are set to begin August 5.