RIO DE JANEIRO – The death of a teenage girl struck by “stray bullets” from the guns of police spurred controversy Friday in Brazil’s second city.
Maria Eduarda Alves, 13, was doing gymnastics Thursday outside her school in Rio’s Pavuna neighborhood when she was hit four times – twice in the head – amid what police said was crossfire from a gunfight between officers and “bandits.”
Minutes later, two cops summarily executed a pair of suspects.
A video clip aired by Globo television showed the officers finishing off the disarmed suspects as they lay wounded on the ground.
The two officers have been arrested and an investigation is under way, police said.
The death of Maria, the third Rio resident under the age of 14 to die so far this year from the impact of stray bullets, is “the most absurd and abject collateral damage that people can imagine,” Rio state police spokesman Ivan Blaz said Friday.
“Our officers are coarsened. Each day, they are experiencing the dilemma of risking their liberty or their lives for the sake of society,” he said.
Cops in Rio de Janeiro are facing an “asymmetrical war” with criminals that has claimed the lives of 46 officers this year, Blaz said.
Maria’s family expressed skepticism about the official explanation of her death.
“How is it a stray bullet, with four bullet holes in the body?” her brother, Uidison Alves, said. “It was an execution. They executed two criminals and my sister.”
Ignacio Cano, a professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, said that Maria’s case is having an impact because it brings together a “scandalously innocent” victim with a summary execution.
“Regrettably, there are many executions of this kind, but when it is caught on film and comes to light, nobody can deny it,” he said, characterizing police violence as “systemic and generalized.”
Both police and the public need to be re-sensitized to the reality of violence, the professor said in an interview with EFE.
He pointed to a recent poll that found around 40 percent of Rio citizens agree with the notion that “the only good bandit is a dead bandit.”
“We have to make people aware that support for summary executions ends up victimizing innocents,” Cano said.
The city suffered 1,221 homicides in the first two months of 2017, up 28 percent from the same period last year, he said.