8-year-old girl shot and killed in Complexo do Alemão in Rio; outrage and protest accompany child’s funeral
Residents and family members blame the police for the girl’s death. In a statement, the Military Police reported that an attack on a UPP special police unit led to the clash.
With information via Carta Capital and El País Brasil
When violence is a state anctioned policy and you see black bodies drop, seemingly every other day, what more words can you use to express your anger, sadness and helplessness? That’s about the extent of what I could say when I learned of yet another young life snuffed out in Rio de Janeiro’s war on
black and poor residents drugs. Just to remind you, just because I don’t cover every single fallen body due to police violence in Rio or any other city in Brazil, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It’s revolting whenever anybody is struck and falls to the ground, especially by state security forces that claim they are protecting them by fighting the criminal elements. But it’s depressing when the victim is a child. This time the victim is 8-year old Ágatha Vitória Sales Félix who died at dawn on Saturday, after being shot on Friday night, in Fazendinha, in the Complexo do Alemão, in Rio’ s North Zone. The child was taken to the Getúlio Vargas State Hospital in Penha, but succumbed to her injuries.
The child was with her mother in a van carrying passengers in the community at the time she was hit. And as is usually the case, the version of the facts is always in dispute and rejected by people of the community. According to residents, MPs (Military Police) shot at a motorcycle that was passing by, and the shot ended up hitting the child.
In a statement, the MP reported that around 10 pm, police teams of UPP Fazendinha were attacked in various locations in the community simultaneously. The police responded to the aggression and there was confrontation. Also according to the MP, after the exchange of fire, police were informed that a resident had been shot. The Pacifying Police Coordination (CPP) said it will open an investigative procedure to verify all the circumstances of the action.
As we have unfortunately learned in past incidents, the violent actions of police spare no life, and that includes those of children as Ágatha is the fifth child killed by violence in the state this year. Around 10am this Saturday, residents of Complexo do Alemão took to the streets in protest of the girl’s death.
Since the beginning of his term, Governor Wilson Witzel has been advocating a policy of confrontation against criminal organizations. On Friday, he defended his policies once again.
“Organized crime is not bigger than the state, and we will not allow them to keep mocking us. They will be fought, hunted, hunted from the communities. And those who don’t give themselves up, don’t take the rifle off their lap, will be slaughtered. Because those who shoot the people and against the population of the state of Rio de Janeiro do not deserve to live,” said the governor.
I find it intriguing that this governor can say something like “those who shoot the people and against the population of the state of Rio de Janeiro do not deserve to live,” when these words can easily be applied his security agents who responsible for an unbelievable percentage of violent deaths in Rio this year, as in so many years in the past.
A month ago, the governor was criticized as he commemorated the death of a 20-year-old man with psychiatric disorders who was shot dead by a BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) sniper. Witzel got off of a helicopter that landed on the Rio-Niterói Bridge shortly after the abduction celebrating. At the time, he claimed to be celebrating life. Let us also not forget the image of Witzel flying in a helicopter with police agents while they took shots at communities below and the image of the children below running for cover. Am I the only wondering what kind of monster this is?
Tears shed during Ágatha’s funeral where kids have become used to running away from gunfire
Hundreds of people gathered this rainy Sunday in the Alemão favela complex in northern Rio de Janeiro to demand justice for Ágatha. Ágatha was hit while in a van next to her mother. Police say the tragedy occurred in a shootout with criminals, which witnesses deny – they point out that the bullet came from a policeman aiming at a nearby motorcyclist. In an act fraught with pain and excitement, residents, activists, and artists echoed grandfather Airton Felix’s comment that went viral on social networks this weekend: that his granddaughter was a student, spoke English, took ballet and was a worker’s daughter. And they remembered a daily life marked by fear in the community, where shootings are frequent. “I have a daughter, and she gets desperate when she goes to school. When there’s shots, she wants to get under the sink,” said a motorcycle taxi driver who was following the procession.
“What will become of my daughter now? Who is she going to play with?”, cried an uncle of the girl who was following, along with other family members, the car that carried the coffin to the Inhauma Cemetery. Shaken, Ágatha’s grandfather remembered the simulation she had done last week at school. “My granddaughter got a seven, but she only liked to get eight, nine or ten,” he said. “She deserves heaven,” he repeated. After burying her, he addressed them all: “Our fight is just beginning.”
The act began around 1 pm on the Itararé road, in front of the Alemão Emergency Care Unit (UPA), and continued in a procession to the chapel where the family veiled Ágatha’s body. “We demand justice,” the protesters shouted over and over. The phrase written on a large banner carried by residents and activists set the tone of the protest: “Parem de nos matar” (Stop killing us). It was the umpteenth time that they had called for the right to life, the most basic of which the Constitution guarantees, to be respected in the peripheries of the city. With the Child and Adolescent Statute in hand, the activist Camila Santos read article 4 that also talks about the duty of society and the public power to ensure the life and health, among other prerogatives, of young Brazilians. “They say you have all the rights here. And I would like to know if this works for the criança favelada (child of the slum),” she asked.
One has to wonder, what recourse do common people have when they are under the control of a trigger-happy government that only orders the entry of security forces with war-ready weaponry into poor, mostly black neighborhoods with such reckless abandon? People, of course, do the only thing that they can in reality do: protest, express their outrage, cry and bury their loved ones. I don’t say this to mock the family of victims in any manner. It is legitimate question. I’ve said before, these things don’t happen by coincidence and people like Witzel don’t come to power by coincidence. I think we should all to the reality that folks like Witzel are chosen because of their insane ideologies and their allegiance to certain sinister agendas. Do you doubt me?
Governor Wilson Witzel (PSC-RJ) has been called a “killer” at various times, as has the MP that he commands. The former judge was elected in 2018 promising that snipers would shoot “at the head” of armed criminals. And since taking office in January this year, police operations in the favelas have become more frequent, as has the use of helicopters as a shooting platform. Its security policy, marked by both rhetorical and operational hardening, has been harshly criticized by social movements and experts for spurring police violence and ending the lives of hundreds of people, whether innocent or criminal. Death tolls by public officials have been hitting monthly highs: from January to August, police have claimed the death of 1,249 people, an average of five a day, according to the administration’s Public Security Institute (ISP). In the metropolitan region of Rio, agents are already responsible for almost half of violent deaths. The data do not consider executions by shadow agents or militias, mostly police and firefighters on duty or in the reserve.
Ágatha was the fifth child who died in Rio after being shot, according to the Fogo Cruzado platform. The mother of two boys, 10 and 13 years old, Tatiana Moreira said that her family “survives cautiously, looking sideways not to receive a stray bullet.” She is a volunteer in a project that teaches tutoring to 150 children ofm the Alemão complex and reports how they grow up accustomed to the horrors of gun violence. “A lot of them come by saying, ‘auntie, my brother took eight shots, auntie, my brother died.’ They become psychologically shaken. These governments are doing it wrong there,” she said. Along the same lines a woman shouted during the funeral: “We want peace. We woke up at 5am to put children in school and we can’t leave the house. We want to live, we want to see the future of our children and grandchildren. We are not animals.”
Of course, WE know that they aren’t animals, but is it not apparent that powerful forces do in fact see them as animals? I will remind you of the merciless comments and documents that show that Brazil DOES see its people, particularly the non-white, poor element as ‘killable’ and ‘undesirable’ worthy of ‘disappearing’. The way I see it, there have been some very insidious deals made that target this parcel of the population. This is why I always stress that Brazil has openly proclaimed its desire to eliminate the black population, through various means.
The governor has not yet commented on the girl’s death, but his management has issued a note defining the episode as “tragic” and ensuring that the case will be investigated with “maximum rigor”. The commotion over Ágatha’s murder was not enough, at least for now, to change the direction of security policy: on Sunday, before the clock struck noon, two people were shot, one in the Acari slum and one inside of a bakery in the Cidade de Deus (City of God). In other words, when Witzel says Ágatha’s death was “tragic”, in essence what he is really saying is that her death, like those of other innocent victims, is simply “collateral damage” in a war on inhabitants of favela communities. Admitted since Wednesday after an exchange of fire in the Alemão complex, Corporal Felipe Ribeiro, 34, succumbed to his injuries and died the same day. It was the second death of an MP this weekend.
President Jair Bolsonaro, another of those elected with a hard-line speech, also did not comment on Ágatha’s death. And perhaps that’s a good thing. What types of comments would anyone really want to hear from a man who openly declared he would given state security agents ‘carte blanche’ to kill more people? HIS words, not mine. The president of the Câmara, Brazil’s lower house, Rodrigo Maia, expressed his solidarity with family members “knowing that there is no word to reduce such suffering.” Referring to the anti-crime package that the Executive sent to Parliament, he concluded: “That is why I advocate a very careful and judicious assessment of the exclusion of illegality that is under discussion in Parliament.”
For his part, Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who is responsible for the package he is processing in Congress, said he trusted the authorities to investigate the case and emphasized that the episode had nothing to do with self-defense. The weapons of the police involved in the action were collected and will undergo a ballistic examination by the Civil Police. Rio’s police forces are on a record-setting streak in terms of the numbers of people who have died from their actions. Can you imagine how much worse this situation could get if Moro’s security package, which the Movimento Negro refers to as a ‘license to kill’, passes?
Meanwhile, international pressure on Brazil and current security policies is growing. Two weeks ago, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, drew attention to the rise in police violence and what she considers to be a shrinking of democratic spaces in the country. This Sunday, the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a note saying that the state should investigate the death of Ágatha “urgently and diligently, and punish those responsible.” Several suburban movements sent to the UN summit, on the eve of Bolsonaro’s speech at the General Assembly, a complaint against Witzel and the Brazilian state for the girl’s death.
More recent data indicate that police violence has been increasing every year. More than 75% of people who are victims of homicide as a result of police killings are young and black, according to the latest figures from the Brazilian Public Security Forum and the Atlas of Violence report. Hard words like “genocide“, “extermination policy” and “state terrorism” are on the agenda. More than ever they are repeated by these activists of the black and periphery movements. For many, surviving became a revolutionary act in 2019.