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Report: Deadly Underside of Rio Olympics

Olympics, Rio
Photo by Getty Images

With the Summer Olympics over, the world media are moving on—but Rio de Janeiro’s poor favela dwellers are left to contend with a wave of murderous police terror, which was launched a year ago as part of an effort to pacify and sanitize the sprawling megalopolis for the 2016 Games. 

Amnesty International reports that over 100 people have been killed by police in the Rio de Janeiro state so far this year—the majority being young black men. A total of 307 were killed by police in the state in 2015, and at least eight people in Rio were actually killed by police during the Games—to little media coverage. The clean-up operation was, of course, disguised as a crackdown on drugs and crime. The inevitable rationale was provided by the narco economy in the favelas—informal urban settlements virtually abandoned by the government for anything other than militarized law enforcement.

The local RioOnWatch website reports that locals got involved in documenting the police violence, using the Fogo Cruzado (Crossfire) app developed by Amnesty to track shootings in Rio via user-contributed reports.

As the Olympics opened, Amnesty warned that “public security” preparations had “unleashed a new wave of violence against favela residents and protestors.” Some protests were related to the police repression, but also to Brazil’s ongoing political crisis. During the Games, Amnesty reported that peaceful protesters were “harshly repressed by the police, both inside and outside sports arenas.”

Demonstrations on Aug. 5 and 12 in Rio were met with tear-gas and stun grenades, with several protesters detained. In São Paulo, police repressed a demonstration of some 100 and detained at least 15 minors.

A report from Vox noted the roots of this popular rage. Rio authorities made great efforts to hide the city’s poor from view, bulldozing entire favelas, forcibly relocating 77,000 citizens and cutting off bus lines that connected poor and predominantly black districts to the area of the Olympic Village. Protesters had threatened for months to disrupt the Olympic Games.

Amnesty found that in the seven years between the time that the Rio Olympics were announced and the time the Games kicked, off, the city’s security forces had already killed more than 2,500 people. So Rio’s favela residents may well be breathing a sigh of relief that the big spectacle is over. But it remains to be seen how much of the murderous police pressure will actually be lifted. 

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