Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life in Latin America: Families point to police in young men's brutal deaths in Brazil

Paulo Pinheiro da Silva, 21, and Luan da Silva, 18, (no relation) and two others, also teenagers, were shot to death by police in September 2014. According to police, the four were killed in a shootout after being chased for more than 6 miles in a stolen car. Authorities haven't provided further details. Family and friends say that the youths were last seen at a party in the poor suburb where they grew up. Some witnesses say that they saw police detain them when they went for a walk outside. The next day, their desperate families learned that they could find them in the morgue. Tereza Pinheiro still keeps her son Paulo's clothes neatly folded in the bedroom the whole family shares. "I lost my son, I lost my son," she sobs. "All I know is the police were involved. They say there was a shootout, but where was the exchange of fire? The bullets were all going in one direction." The four young men died in September 2014, and their families still haven't received forensic reports. But at the funerals, friends and relatives say that they started to receive anonymous messages on their cell phones with gruesome photos of the crime scene and also of cadavers riddled with holes. Luan's brother, Alan da Silva, says that he thinks these were messages from the police. "The police were the only ones in a position to take those pictures," he says. "They wanted to intimidate us, intimidate the community and say, 'We're not fooling around.' " The families say that they believe the killings all point to torture. In the photos, there are 13 bullet wounds on Luan's body, some forming a ring around his neck, and what looked like a smiley face carved into his chest. Relatives say that some of the teeth were also pulled out at the root. "I don't know why they did it," says Luan's mother, Antonia Maria Miguel. "They were killed like animals." But her eldest son, Alan, says that police brutality is not uncommon in Brazil's poor shantytowns and suburbs. "It doesn't matter if you're white, black, blue or gray. If you were born in poverty, you were born guilty," he says. The Sao Paulo public defender's office agrees. "It's a serious case itself, but it's also representative of what happens in Brazil," Public Defender Samuel Friedman said. Recently his office sent an urgent appeal to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to investigate the case. Friedman says that "at the very least that the police used force illegally, but it also points that (the young men) might have been executed. It is likely they have been executed." Brazilian police killed more than 11,000 civilians from 2009 to 2013, according to a recent report by the Forum on Public Safety, a group that collects and disseminates government safety data. The report concludes there is an "abusive use of lethal force" in Brazil. By comparison, the reports says, police in the United States killed roughly the same number of people over 30 years - from 1983 to 2012. Alan da Silva says that he hopes the United Nations will intervene and find out what really happened to his brother. And also step up pressure so that nothing like it happens to the baby son he left behind.

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