Human rights violations are a part of every day life for most
people who live in low-income neighborhoods. In the communities
of Sapopemba, there is a feeling of isolation, fear, and insecurity.
From January to May 2003, São Paulo's Military Police
killed 435 people, an average of 3 persons per day, and 51%
more than in the same period of 2002. The Police Attorney
Fermino Fecchio, who denounced these killings, was recently
removed from his position under pressure from the Secretary
killing policies in the periphery
of São Paulo
was on April 24th around 10 am. They knocked on the door and
I answered. 'Are you the owner of this house?' 'I am'-I barely
had time to respond before I got punched in the eye. They
came in and continued to hit me. They also hit my husband,
who tried to defend me, and called me a whore, a bitch, and
other names which they also called my 11 year old daughter.
My younger children cried watching that scene, their parents
getting beaten up, and the police threatening them and telling
them that they would go to juvenile hall. While they beat
us, they said that we were to sign everything, but I didn't
even know what crime we had committed. After a half hour beating
us up, they handcuffed us, took us out of our home, and put
us in a vehicle."
a long time in the vehicle, without anyone explaining what
was going on, one of the policemen opened the car so that
a TV camera team from "Cidade Alerta" (a police
show) could show them on national TV as a dangerous couple
the way to the police station, the officers told us that they
were going to give us electric shocks. We arrived at the police
station at 2:30pm; they ordered us to stand up against the
wall and every policeman that walked by hit my husband with
their guns. After a while, we were photographed and frisked.
A policeman called me a whore and said that I wasn't going
to be put in the same cell as my husband because then he would
come back and find us having sex. I was put in a cell with
a man I had never seen before. Only afterwards I found out
that he was a victim like us, arrested under the same conditions.
After they left us in the cell, the police turned off the
lights twice and released some kind of gas, which we later
found out was pepper spray. When they released the gas, they
made noises, imitating ghosts. This was around 3pm. We stayed
there for hours, feeling sick, suffocated with nausea and
headaches. I had to go to the bathroom but nobody came near
the cell. Only around 8:30pm did two police appear, asking
us who we were and for the first time my husband and I were
heard. After we answered their questions, my husband asked
if I could use the bathroom. The police said they were going
to send someone to go with me. At this point we found out
that there were two attorneys to accompany us. (Only later
did we find out that they had been there since 3pm but only
managed to speak with us at 11pm.) At 9:15 the police showed
up to accompany me to the bathroom. They asked me about a
strong smell, and I said that it was some kind of gas, and
that's when I found out from them that it was pepper spray.
At around 10:30 the three of us (my husband, the man in the
cell with me, and I) were taken to the police chief. We answered
his questions. In the end, he apologized and said we could
leave because we weren't the people he was looking for. 2"
couple lives in the Sapopemba district, the East zone in the
city of São Paulo. According to their report, they
were victims of a police mega-operation in this region on
April 23 and 24, 2003. The police used the pretext of having
collective warrants (which were never presented) to invade
several houses without the owners' authorization. They broke
their furniture, took photos and personal documents, exposing
people to uncomfortable, degrading, and intolerable situations.
Furthermore, several people were victims of torture. A pregnant
woman had a spontaneous abortion after suffering verbal abuse
and watching her neighbors get beaten up.
was not an isolated case. In this region, with high rates
of violence and unemployment, community members are more afraid
of the police than of the drug traffickers that run the favelas
(shantytowns). Several human rights organizations have denounced
criminal police practices in this region. Besides making deals
with the drug traffickers, the police put on very loud music
while harassing people in the community. They invade houses
at any time of the day or night without any judicial order.
Using the need to search as a pretext, they break objects,
rip up personal documents, and take the residents' photos
and documents, always accusing them of being drug dealers.
According to the residents, even after identifying themselves,
they are treated as criminals. The police officers break the
lights and fire gun shots at their houses. People who study
at night often cannot return home because the police won't
let anyone come in or leave while they are in a certain place.
In addition, there have been many cases of sexual abuse by
Poverty Becomes a Crime
rights violations are a part of every day life for most people
who live in low-income neighborhoods. In the communities of
Sapopemba, there is a feeling of isolation, fear, and insecurity.
presence of the State, which is already precarious, is harmed
even more when these police operations occur. It is not uncommon
for the few existing public services to close due to a lack
of employees who do not feel safe.
there are police operations, a large number of students and
teachers miss school. Several teachers and principals require
to be transferred due to regular demands by the police to
provide personal information about the students. When they
refuse to provide this information, they are threatened with
the public health system, which is already unstable, people
miss appointments made months in advance because they are
afraid to leave their homes. There have also been an increased
number of transfer requests by employees in the health care
system. This climate of fear caused a growing number of cases
of depression and suicide attempts, especially by women in
work, residents also suffer the consequences. There are many
cases of people who, when looking for a job, give the address
of a relative in a different region, to avoid the stigma of
living in a place that appears daily in the media as a "lair
of criminals and drug dealers." Many people are forced
to change their daily lives, while others have to move elsewhere.
rights organizations in the region promoted a public hearing
on June 7, 2003 to denounce this situation. After that, Valdênia
Paulino, the attorney for the Center for the Defense of Civil
Rights in Sapopemba, received several death threats from police
case received national press coverage and, on August 12th,
the Special Secretary of Human Rights, Minister Nilmário
Miranda, visited the region to implement a program to protect
human rights workers. The Minister was also informed of a
plan the police had to kill father Júlio Lancellotti,
another human rights activist in Sapopemba. This priest intervened
in a homicide case in which the police had apprehended a scapegoat,
in order to protect drug dealers.
January to May 2003, São Paulo's Military Police killed
435 people, an average of 3 persons per day, and 51% more
than in the same period in 2002. The Police Attorney Fermino
Fecchio, who denounced these cases, was recently removed from
his position, under pressure from the Secretary of Security.
Tim Cahill, a researcher from Amnesty International in Brazil,
confirmed Fecchio's position: "there is only an increase
in police violence when they have political support from a
government that authorizes it," he affirmed.3
large portion of police groups who have this practice is made
up of men at the beginning of their careers with little experience
and without a standard level of education. Police officers
are sent to serve in the periphery as a punitive measure,
when they are unable to serve in a different location because
of a lack of schooling or of support from a superior officer.
order to prevent criminal police actions, we need to transform
their relations with the community. According to local human
rights organizations, we need to implement the following measures:
To create better dialog between the military and the civil
2. The police needs to maintain a dialog with the Youth Council.
3. The police needs to organize lectures for the communities,
informing them about police activities.
4. Changes in the criteria for police training about working
in low-income regions.
5. Investigation and treatment of police officers who use
6. Training of other professionals who work in the region.
7. To remove police officers who are under investigation.
8. To create a Community Police Office for the whole Sapopemba
9. To establish a dialog between the police and local human
community hopes that the government will implement these policies,
as well as guarantee their economic, social, and cultural
Human Rights Center of Sapopemba.
Ana Facundes is a translator and communications advisor for
the cabinet of town councilor Flavia Pereira (Workers Party/Sao
Affadavit given at the Center for the Defense of Human Rights