Tue, Mar 23, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Pamphlet tells Brazil slum dwellers how to deal with police


Rio’s Santa Marta favela has benefited from police protection for two years, but crime control has sometimes been accompanied by abuse, prompting locals to publish a pamphlet outlining their rights.

Police Control, a pocket-sized booklet, was put together by favelados (slum dwellers) and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and is intended as an instruction manual on constitutional rights and how to behave at police checkpoints.

Written in plain language and chock-full of illustrations, the pamphlet makes clear just what police can and cannot do under the law.

“If a police officer calls you a preto safado [a Portuguese epithet for blacks] he’s committing racial abuse,” or “if he tells you to run without looking back, it’s abuse of power, a crime,” the pamphlet says.

And “if they threaten to beat you to make you talk, it’s torture, also a crime,” it says.

“For people like us, who are poor, black and subject to police control, this booklet shields us from the ‘worms’ [slang for cops]. Because when they realize we know our rights, they change their tone,” hip-hop star Gas-Pa said at the pamphlet’s unveiling on Thursday in Santa Marta.

“We can’t kid ourselves, the military police [who patrol the favela] were created in 1809 to crush slave revolts and still today, 70.2 percent of the people they kill are African descendants,” the musician said.

Rio de Janeiro state’s Deputy Attorney General for Human Rights Leonardo de Souza Chavez contributed to the pamphlet, which he said stresses that “the downtrodden, the suburban poor understand their citizenship rights.”

“The police must approach the poor as they do any other citizen — there’s still a lot of prejudice thrown at favela dwellers,” he said.

Santa Marta is a showcase for the public security project the government launched in 2008. It is occupied full-time by a “community police” force trained in helping the local population and chasing drug traffickers and other criminals out of the area.

Even so, de Souza said, the people of Santa Marta “still don’t trust the police and there have been reports of abuse of power.”

Precisely because the police have taken over the shantytown, “it’s the right moment to release this pamphlet and prevent such abuse,” said rap-star Fiell, who also attended the unveiling.

“Things are better” in Santa Marta, “but I’ve still seen people here being insulted by police,” said Paulo Henrique, 38, who moved to the favela a year-and-a-half ago when he saw that violence had dropped.

No police were present at Thursday’s unveiling of the pamphlet, which eventually will be distributed throughout all Rio’s slums.

“The police said it would reserve its comments until it has read the pamphlet,” said leftist lawmaker Marcelo Freixo, who spearheaded a congressional investigation into police behavior in the favelas.

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