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Woman Organizes Against Police Killings In Brazil Ahead Of World Cup

May 16, 2014

The World Cup kicks off in Brazil in less than a month, and preparations are still ongoing — three stadiums are still under construction.

Boston resident Liz Martin is worried that part of the preparations for the World Cup will include more violence by the police.

Amnesty International reports that Brazil’s police are responsible for about 2,000 deaths each year, one of the highest rates in the world.

Martin started a petition on the website, calling for a reduction in the high rate of police killings. She discusses her campaign with Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer.


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And now to Brazil, where demonstration broke out in a dozen cities yesterday against the World Cup. Protesters chanted against FIFA, the global soccer governing body.

Police have arrested more than 200 people. But even before the protests, Brazilian police were cracking down in the country's favelas, or slums, they say to make Brazil safer for the World Cup.

And our next guest is worried that preparations for the tournament and for the 2016 Olympics there will include more police violence. Amnesty International reports that Brazil's police are responsible for about 2,000 deaths each year. Liz Martin founded the nonprofit Brazil Police Watch. She also started a petition to FIFA and to the International Olympic Committee called Don't Kill For She joins me in the studio. Liz, thank you for coming in.

LIZ MARTIN: Thank you for having me.

PFEIFFER: And Liz, I want you to talk about how you became interested in this issue, because you have a personal connection to it. But could you first lay out for us the problem as you see it, and why these police sort of shooting, killing, brutality rates are so high?

MARTIN: The situation in Brazil is that the police in Brazil on average kill about five people a day. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations count them as one of the most murderous police departments in the world. They're a military police. They're trained as soldiers. And despite the fact that there's a domestic uproar about this, there's not a big international uproar about the situation.

PFEIFFER: You actually say on your website that although you mention a domestic uproar, it seems that maybe the public isn't more outspoken about this because some people feel like if that helps keep people safe, then maybe it's something they have to tolerate. Did you find that aspect about Brazil?

MARTIN: I think that there is a certain amount of tolerance for police lethality, because people are so afraid of the high rates of crime. And also, now the police, they're an artifact of the dictatorship, so there's whole generations of people. This is all they know.

PFEIFFER: You have, as we mentioned, a personal connection to this. You had a nephew who was living in Brazil who was killed. Could you tell us a little about his case and how this spurred you to get involved in this way?

MARTIN: Sure. Sure. My nephew was living in Brazil. He had been living there for several years at this point and he was fluent in Portuguese. And he was in Rio cobbling together an income with translation, teaching English, and it was his 30th birthday, and he was friend in a very popular part of Rio, a big tourist place called Lapa.

And a street kid stole an Australian tourist's handbag. And an off-duty cop caught the kid. And my nephew went up to them saying something, like, oh, I'll take care of this. I know these people. And the thief used that as an opportunity to run away. And the cop was enraged and he pulled out his gun and he pointed it at the fleeing child. And the kid got away.

Then he turned to my nephew and he shot at him five times hitting him three times.

PFEIFFER: Your family must have been stunned when they heard about this, but have you sense been in touch with other families of people who've died at the hands of the police, and what kind of things do you hear from them?

MARTIN: I've heard the stories, you know, the man whose two-year-old was killed 17 years ago during a raid in a favela. And for 17 years he's been going to these protests. Or the elderly couple whose 11 year old granddaughter was killed by the police. These are the ones that stick in my mind. You know, when the police say that they're killing criminals, these are not criminals.

PFEIFFER: Brazil is under pressure to clean itself up in preparation for the World Cup, and there have been news stories about the police sweeping into the favelas, the slums. Are you worried that as the World Cup gets closer, the police are going to get more aggressive about clean up in a way that could end up turning to violence?

MARTIN: That's exactly what I'm worried about. One thought is the notion, right, that these preparations essentially means that they're killing our behalf to get ready. The other is there was a colonel in the Rio police who once described the police as society's best insecticide.


MARTIN: Yeah. Instead of seeing that as a horrific statement, he was promoted. And then Jose Beltrame, he's the architect of the raids on the favelas, and he's the secretary of public security for the state of Rio, so the Olympics, which is just in Rio, the security for the Olympics. This is his domain. He was once asked about the high rate of civilian deaths, and he said, you know, if you're going to make an omelet, you've got to break some eggs.

PFEIFFER: I mean, it sounds based on those comments, like you really need a change of culture and mindset within the police itself.

MARTIN: And that's why this campaign was designed for international pressure. You know, Brazil wants to be seen as a world leader, both economically and politically. And with that comes responsibility. And the consensus is that it's the international pressure that they're going to respond to. 'Cause domestically, it's the poor and disenfranchised that are suffering. Joe is an anomaly.

PFEIFFER: Your nephew.

MARTIN: My nephew. That was an anomaly.

PFEIFFER: And more it tends to be the poor people, the people who live in the slums, the people's whose deaths get less noticed and less protested.

MARTIN: Right. They're invisible.

PFEIFFER: We mentioned you have a petition. What exactly is it calling for?

MARTIN: Well, the petition, you know, I chose to speak out to FIFA--they organize the World Cup--and the IOC, the Olympics, and event sponsors. And the petition is saying to these organizers, you've promised safe games, but not at this price. And there are some very, very specific requests in there.

For example, working towards the demilitarization of the police in Brazil, that these organizations work with Brazil as they are, on an infrastructure, on security, and take some action towards reducing police violence.

PFEIFFER: Liz Martin is the founder of the non-profit Brazil Police Watch. Liz, thanks for coming to the studio.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for having me.


PFEIFFER: You're listening to HERE AND NOW.

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