Killings by São Paulo state security forces are on the rise, once again highlighting police violence in Brazil and the culture which encourages it.
Police in the southeastern Brazilian state killed 358 people during the first half of 2015, the highest figures in a decade, local newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported, citing figures from the state’s Public Security Secretary.
The statistics follow reports of a series of murders, which some suspect of being carried out by police death squads. On August 13, at least 18 people were killed in São Paulo’s namesake capital city, in a series of shootings which took place over three hours.
According to some witnesses, the assailants targeted people with criminal histories. Other reports said that bullet casings associated with ammunition used by security forces were found at the murder scenes. The mayor of one affected São Paulo suburb went so far as to say the killings may have been reprisals for the recent deaths of two police officers.
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While more details have yet to emerge about the killings in São Paulo, it would not be outrageous to consider the possibility that police death squads were involved. A 2014 study found that São Paulo state military police have killed more than 10,000 people since 1995. There is also a strong precedent for off-duty police committing killings, and prior examples of police becoming embroiled in tit-for-tat assasinations with prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC). It remains to be seen whether the 18 murders in São Paulo will unleash a cycle of revenge killings between gangs and police, as previously seen in the city in 2012.
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Brazil’s police have frequently been accused of fostering “a culture of violence” and failing to do enough to address the issue of brutal policing, as highlighted in a recent report by Amnesty International. Police reliance on use of excessive and illegal force has been blamed on the brutal training that recruits undergo.