Brazil police shootings of five men spark outrage

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Angry Rio residents said Tuesday the shooting of five young men in an apparently botched police operation shows next year's Olympic host city is a war zone where the poor are treated as the enemy.

Even in a city where more than three people are killed daily and where police commit nearly 16 percent of homicides, the weekend shooting of the five has caused shock.

"They were murdered!" said Monica Aparecida Santana Correa, mother of an 18-year-old shot along with friends ranging from ages 16 to 25 as they drove in a white hatchback through northern Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.

"This is a war we're living in," community leader Andre Rongo added at an emotional gathering of family and locals in a makeshift community center near the scene of the tragedy.

Four members of the police force have been arrested and the commander of their battalion -- responsible for more killings than any other unit in the city -- was sacked.

In addition to spraying the car with gunfire, hitting it at least 50 times, they allegedly planted a pistol at the scene to back their claim of having come under fire first -- a version swiftly shown to be false after preliminary examinations of the car, according to O Globo newspaper.

"It was a tragic and unnecessary action. Nothing justifies this," Rio state's security chief, Jose Beltrame, said in an unusually prompt response after the killings.

- 'Barbaric' -

The outrage has made headlines in Brazil. But for relatives and other residents from the Costa Barros neighborhood, where the shootings took place, the attack was only the latest blow in what they see as an undeclared war against poor, mostly black people living in the city's sprawling working class communities known as favelas.

"They just saw five black men in that car and killed them, because if they had been five white men, their mothers would be sitting here smiling instead of crying," Correa said at the gathering.

"But they were black, from the favelas. That is why our sons were killed, you see, because they lived in Costa Barros."

"They knew they weren't bandits," she said. "They lied."

Attorney Jorge Roberto Lima da Penha, who represents numerous Rio families caught up in police violence, told the gathering that the shootings were "barbaric murders."

All five young men were buried late Monday.

- Dangerous Olympic city -

Police shootings -- and fatal attacks against police -- are common in Brazil, one of the world's most violent countries.

The shooting of the five just a few miles (kilometers) from the international airport highlights the difficulty of securing Rio before August when it becomes the first South American city to host the Olympic Games.

For residents in favelas, which are dotted across the city, lethal violence is a fact of daily life. On one side are heavily armed and murderous drug gangs and on the other a widely feared police force.

"You're afraid all day long," said community member Neusa de Carvalho, 28. "The moment you put a foot out the door you're afraid because you don't know what you'll find on the other side."

According to Amnesty International, police action is one of the leading causes of violent death in Rio, accounting for 1,519 killings in the last five years.

Mostly those killings are recorded by police as legitimate acts of self-defense. However, Amnesty says that faking crime scenes to show there was resistance is routine.

In addition, human rights groups regularly accuse the police of running death squad-type killings of groups of people.

For police officers, reality is also brutal, with 398 reported killed in 2014 across the country, including 98 in Rio state.

Some, like an officer killed in Rio just this Monday, are shot on duty. Many are murdered when off duty after being recognized and lacking the same level of protection as when they're on the job.

Recent cases include horrific incidents like the October kidnapping and burning to death of a Rio officer or another who was dragged to his death through a favela.

"It's a war," said Pedro Jorge, 25, another favela resident. "It's not a war of country against country, but between classes and races."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting