Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Brazil: Aunt of US tourist, 30, Shot, Killed by Police in Rio Embarks on Cause to Prevent Other Foreigners From Being Killed, Security Advice on 12/26

According to The Associated Press, six years ago, Elizabeth Martin's nephew, Joseph Martin, 30, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer while celebrating his birthday in Rio de Janeiro. 
 
Now, Martin, long since dead, has a message for the countless foreigners set to descend on Brazil for next year's World Cup: The next Joseph Martin could be you.

Joseph Martin was plunged head-long into Brazil's police brutality drama in May 2007, when an off-duty officer, João Vicente Oliveira, detained a teenage suspect who'd snatched a purse belonging to one of Martin's friends, who were out celebrating his birthday at a popular Rio nightspot.

Martin, who had been living in Brazil for about two years and supported himself by teaching English, intervened, but the suspect escaped. Witnesses said Martin was arguing with Oliveira when the officer fired three shots at the American, killing him.

Unfortunately, police in Brazil have long been notorious for their links to organized crime, use of heavy-handed tactics including torture and even summary executions. Brazilians often approach officers warily if at all, put off by the violent behavior of a large percentage of police.

Martin, whose nephew, Joseph, was gunned down following an altercation with police over a stolen purse, is concerned that foreigners oblivious to the reputation local police could unwittingly stumble into the kind of scuffle that cost Joseph his life.

COMMENT:  As many of our readers may or may not know, both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have been classified as "Critical" threat for crime for over 25 years by the US Department of State. Sadly, "Critical" threat is the highest threat level on the Department's four-tier threat designation system of "High, Medium and Low."

Consequently, for the benefit of our readers,  on December 26, I will offer a special feature entitled "Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo: Security Guidance for First-Time Travelers to Brazil." This section will offer 20 tips on how visitors can stay safe while visiting the 2014 World Cup and/or the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Elizabeth Martin has launched a campaign, "Don't Kill for Me: Safe Games for All," aimed at raising international public awareness of the issue, especially ahead of the wave of foreign visitors expected for the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Human rights campaigners and international organizations alike have long condemned Brazil's police for routinely carrying out summary executions, very often officially explained away as suspects "killed while resisting arrest.''

A 2009 report by the US-based group Human Rights Watch estimated police killed about 11,000 people in Brazil's two largest cities, Rio and São Paulo, from 2003 to 2009, far more than the number of non-fatal civilian injuries and police fatalities in those same areas of operation.

A damning 2008 United Nations report also blamed police for a "significant portion'' of the country's approximately 48,000 annual slayings the year before.

Law enforcement authorities insist they've made great strides in reigning in rogue cops, and indeed, Rio and other metropolises have seen a significant decline both in overall murder rates and "acts of resistance," or people killed by police while allegedly resisting arrest.

In Rio de Janeiro state alone, acts of resistance fell from their peak of 1,330 in 2007 to 415 last year, according to the state's Institute of Public Security statistics agency, though some critics contend police are "disappearing'' victims by hiding their bodies.
 
Earlier this month, Rio state shelled out nearly $US26 million in bonuses to police units that registered the biggest fall in police killings. 

João Vicente Oliveira would later allege that he fired at Martin after Martin attempted to grab his service weapon, but the young prosecutor in the case, Viviane Tavares Henriques, said Martin "never went after the police officer's gun or in any way threatened him.''

Elizabeth Martin agreed that much remains to be done to root out impunity and corruption in Brazil's police force, and pointed to the 2010 acquittal of the officer who shot Joseph in a nine-hour-long trial that the Martin family alleged was riddled with anomalies. 

João Vicente Oliveira was himself gunned down by unidentified assailants several months after the trial, according to local news reports.

Since her nephew's killing, Martin has made the plight of a country thousands of kilometers away her personal cause. She quit her full-time job as a Harvard University director of administration to devote herself to her campaign.

Martin has also traveled to Rio and participated in meetings, conferences, marches and other demonstrations with groups representing the mothers of those killed by police, determined to use her nephew's death to make a difference.

Among the demands in an online petition she launched last month is giving officers in all twelve World Cup host cities training in low-lethal policing techniques. "My goal is to get international pressure to get some real and lasting changes,'' Martin said. "I want to keep other families from having to go through what our family has been through.''