Tensions are building in the city of Campinas, Brazil after what residents suspect was a series of revenge killings carried out by military police, once again raising the issue of extrajudicial killings in the country.
Over the last few days, Campinas, in the state of São Paulo, has seen street protests and arson attacks following the murder of 12 men in a killing spree on the night of January 12.
The police are investigating the possibility that the perpetrators of the killings were members of the military police and the murders were revenge for the death of an off-duty colleague who was shot in a botched robbery attempt.
All of the murders took place close to each other and were carried out with a similar modus operandi. According to BBC Mundo, the weapons used were high caliber military-grade arms, fuelling suspicion of security forces involvement.
In what locals say was a reprisal for the murders, the next day around 300 masked youths armed with sticks and rocks attacked a bus station, setting fire to several buses, reported O Globo. This was followed on January 15 with a peaceful anti-police protest.
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The Brazilian police — especially its military police — are notorious for extra-judicial killings, whether they come dressed up as “resistance killings” — where police murder a suspect then claim he was resisting arrest — or if they are carried out by police-run militias.
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The concern in Campinas is that if the police were behind the murder spree, then tensions with the local communities could erupt into violence. In 2012, São Paulo police became embroiled in a tit-for-tat with criminal gangs that escalated into a war between police and local gangs. The violence in São Paulo dragged on for months, leading to a drastic spike in the murder rate and the death of 95 police officers in the first 11 months of the year.
The rapid recourse to arson attacks on public transport also echoes the violence that gripped the neighboring state of Santa Catarina early last year, when prison gang leaders directed a wave of violent attacks, which included assaults on police stations.
Brazil, the host of the World Cup later this year, is trying to tighten security, and organizers are worried that violence and protests may disrupt the games.