The ‘Woman Who Was Dragged’ and Killed by Brazil's Military Police

Image by Collective ñ, free use.

Image by Collective ñ, free use.

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages except when otherwise noted.]

Claudia Silva Ferreira was shot in the neck and back during a military police operation on the morning of March 16, 2014 in the Morro da Congonha favela, or slum, in the north of Rio de Janeiro. Unconscious, the 38-year-old woman and mother known as Cacau was put in the trunk of a police car to supposedly be taken to the hospital.

Neighbors and friends tried to stop the police from taking her, but the officers fired warning shots in the air to disperse the crowd, and with the trunk open they took her away. Then, on the Intendente Magalhães highway, her apparently lifeless body rolled out of the trunk, and secured by a piece of clothing, was dragged along the asphalt for at least 250 meters without the officers in the car paying attention to the appeals of other drivers and pedestrians.

The shocking scene was filmed by an anonymous driver:

Attention: this video contains extremely strong images. Click to open in a new page.

The video of Claudia Silva Ferreira being dragged behind a car, released bynewspaper Extra, contains extremely graphic content. 

The military police officers responsible for dragging Silva Ferreira, Sub-lieutenant Adir Serrano Machado, Sub-lieutenant Rodney Miguel Archanjo, and Sergeant Alex Sandro da Silva Alves, were arrested the following day. But they were released on March 20 on the request of prosecutor Paulo Roberto Cunha, who declared, “If she [Silva Ferreira] presented vital signs, there would be the crime of bodily harm. But, if she was dead [when placed in the trunk], they did not commit any crime.” The police officers are awaiting judgment while released on bail.

Act in homage to Claudia and against police violence on March 17 in Madureira, north zone of Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Organização Anarquista Terra e Liberdade OATL (Anarchist Organization for Land and Liberty), free use.

Protest in homage to Claudia Silva Ferreira and against police violence on March 17 in Madureira in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Organização Anarquista Terra e Liberdade OATL (Anarchist Organization for Land and Liberty), free use.

Journalist Monica Waldvogel noted on her Twitter that Sub-lieutenant Adir Serrano has been involved in at least 63 deaths. Sub-lieutenant Rodney Archango has been involved in six deaths.

According to Thais Lima, Silva Ferreira's daughter, the police officers laughed while putting her body in the car.

Professor Eduardo Sterzi posted on his Facebook the anonymous testimony of a resident who was present when Silva Ferreira was killed and of another resident who had just died as well:

(…) foi executado após já ter sido alvejado e estar caído. Ele tinha uma mochila com drogas, mas três pistolas foram plantadas pra ser dito que houve confronto, além de outras três mochilas que também foram plantadas.

Eles chegaram atirando em tudo e todos, por isso a morte da mulher.

(…) was killed after he had already been shot and had fallen. He had a backpack with drugs, but three pistols were planted on him so that it could be said there was a confrontation, in addition to the other three backpacks that were also planted.

They arrived shooting at everything and everyone, and that's why the woman died.

According to Silva Ferreira's husband Alexandre da Silva and his brother Julio Ferreira, Silva Ferreira was allegedly shot by the same police officer who planted four weapons on the scene of the crime, when, according to them, she was only carrying a package of coffee and six Brazilian reals (2.65 US dollars) to buy food for her children.

About this fact, activist Camila Pavanelli commented on Facebook:

A mentira é o pressuposto do qual devemos partir ao ouvir qualquer declaração da PM. Mas nem sempre esse pressuposto se confirma. No caso de Claudia e suas quatro armas, não se estava tentando mentir para acobertar o crime (afinal, quem seria capaz de acreditar nesta versão?).

Afirmar que Claudia tinha quatro armas é nada menos que estender a tortura aos seus familiares.

The lie is the assumption that we should accept whatever declaration we hear from the military police. But they don't even confirm these assumptions all the time. In the case of Claudia and her four weapons, were they not trying to lie to cover up the crime (in the end, who would be capable of believing this version?).

Saying that Claudia had four weapons is nothing more than extending the torture of her family.

Photo posted by the profile Anonymous Rio, on Facebook. Free use.

Photo posted by the profile Anonymous Rio on Facebook. Free use.

People on social media compared the case of Silva Ferreira to that of young boy João Hélio. Federal Deputy of the PSOL (the Socialism and Freedom Party) Chico Alencar noted on his Facebook:

Fevereiro de 2007. Três jovens abordam um carro no bairro de Oswaldo Cruz, subúrbio do Rio. Na mão de um deles, uma arma de fogo. Do lado de dentro, o menino João Hélio, sua irmã de treze anos e sua mãe.

Foi um dos crimes mais terríveis e chocantes que o Brasil já testemunhou. [Ao tentar escapar da viatura] O pequeno João Hélio ficou preso ao cinto de segurança, do lado de fora do carro, e foi ARRASTADO pelos assaltantes por cerca de sete quilômetros. Seu corpo ficou completamente desfigurado. Até hoje, para muitos, lembrar e escrever sobre isso é tarefa que arrepia e arranca lágrimas.

February 2007. Three young men carjack a vehicle in neighborhood of Oswaldo Cruz, a suburb of Rio. One holds a firearm in his hand. Inside the car, a small boy, João Hélio, his 13-year-old sister and his mother.

It was one of the most terrible and shocking crimes that Brazil has ever witnessed. [Trying to escape from the car] João Hélio was buckled into his seatbelt, outside the car, and was DRAGGED by the robbers for about seven kilometers. His body was completely disfigured. Until today, for many, to remember and write about this is a task that causes goosebumps and brings tears to the eyes.

The case was also compared to that of Amarildo, a stone worker who was tortured, killed, and his body “disappeared” [en] by the military police in the favela Rocinha, also in Rio de Janeiro, in July 2013.

The memory of João Hélio sparked even more outcry given that mainstream media, instead of using Silva Ferreira's full name, called her the “woman who was dragged“, among other variations.

Activist Niara Oliveira questioned this on Twitter: “Why is that today we remember the name of the boy that was dragged from a car robbed by criminals? BECAUSE THE PRESS REPEATED HIS NAME TO EXHAUSTION,” and commented:

Because when a life is important, there is a name, an identity, a story. WE WILL ALWAYS REPEAT: Claudia da Silva Ferreira, worker, mother of 4 children.

Collection of news headlines propagated by online media about the death of Claudia Ferreira collected by activist Ana Silva that wrote:

Collection of news headlines on the death of Claudia Silva Ferreira collected by activist Ana Silva. She wrote: “THE POLICE MURDER, AND THE MEDIA IS CYNICAL AND PERVERSE. Woman, woman, woman, resident, resident, resident, dead, dead, dragged, dragged, dragged, dragged. Daughter of the dragged, burial of the dragged, widower of the woman, the woman who was dragged. It is all like this: without a name, without an identity, WITHOUT HUMANITY. JUST ANOTHER CADAVER. JUST ANOTHER STATISTIC.”

Activist Thiago Paiva added to the discussion in a series of tweets:

Por qual razão a vítima quando é de classe média/alta tem nome e sobrenome? Pensando no que eu disse de manhã. Guri arrastado de carro. Estereótipo completo de ~classe média~ – nome, sobrenome, série de reportagens. Uma moça arrastada de carro, pobre, não tem “potencial” pra ser uma musa que gere uma causa… é só “mulher arrastada”

For what reason is it that a victim of the middle/upper class has a name and a last name? Thinking on what I said this morning. Boy dragged by a car. Complete stereotype of the ~middle class~- name, last name, series of reports. A woman dragged by a car, poor, doesn't have the “potential” to be a muse that creates a cause.. it's just “woman who was dragged.”

The tone was that of despair amongst many activists and users of Facebook and Twitter. Activist Rodrigo Cardia wrote that the case “probably would soon be forgotten because the victim was black and poor – like many other people who are killed daily by the military police throughout Brazil.”

Professor Idelber Avelar questioned what will happen to the “uniformed criminals”:

Nada. Não vai acontecer nada. Não serão julgados e, na remotíssima possibilidade de que o sejam, serão absolvidos. E o sistema político brasileiro continua incapaz de apresentar soluções minimamente decentes para a existência de organizações criminosas desse tipo, aparatos de tortura e morte, fardados, que atuam com o beneplácito do Estado e ao arrepio da lei.

Nothing. Nothing is going to happen. They won't be tried, and in the remotest possibility of what could be, they will be acquitted. And the Brazilian political system continues to be incapable of presenting even minimally decent solutions for the existence of criminal organizations of this type, apparatus of torture and death, uniformed, which act with the blessing of the state and contrary to the law.

Journalist Bruno Torturra tweeted:

The impunity of the police transformed their prerogative. They went from having a legal monopoly on violence to having a legal monopoly on illegality.

The case brought back to the surface the debate for the end of the military police and its demilitarization, as pleaded for by the collective Rio na Rua:

A vítima de hoje foi uma mulher negra e pobre, moradora de uma favela situada em um bairro de classe média baixa do Rio de Janeiro. Cláudia, 38 anos, trabalhadora, mãe de quatro filhos, criava quatro sobrinhos. Mais uma vítima da ação bárbara da PMERJ. A voz das ruas diz que “a polícia mata pobre todo dia”. Quantos outros casos como o dela não ganharam voz na grande mídia? E qual voz o caso Cláudia ganhará? Sua morte é mais um exemplo de que a desmilitarização da polícia é uma questão urgente. Não queremos mais exemplos. Queremos o fim da Polícia Militar.

Today's victim was a woman, black and poor, a resident of a favela situated in a lower-middle class neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Claudia, 38 years old, worker, mother of four children, who also cared for four nieces and nephews. One more victim of the barbaric actions of the PMERJ (Military Police of the State of Rio de Janeiro). Voices from the street say that “the police kill the poor every day.” How many other cases like hers will not find a voice in the media? And what voice will Claudia's case gain? Her death is one more example that the demilitarization of the police is an urgent issue. We don't want more examples. We want the end of the military police.

"Este ônibus foi queimado pelo povo após o assassinato de mais uma moradora de favela e negra na cidade do Rio. Isso não é vandalismo. Isso é revolta. Isso não é crime. É direito de indignar-se. Esta vida que foi tirada não apaga a dor desta família e de todas que são vítimas do genocídio promovido pelo Estado. PELO FIM DA PM!" Texto e foto do Organização Anarquista Terra e Liberdade OATL, uso livre

“This bus was burnt by the people following the murder of yet another black slum dweller, a woman from the city of Rio. This is not vandalism. This is revolt. This is not a crime. It is a right to become indignant. This life that has been taken doesn't relieve the pain of this family and of all who are victims of the genocide promoted by the state. FOR THE END OF THE MILITARY POLICE!” Text and photo by Organização Anarquista Terra and Liberdade (Anarchist Organization for Land and Liberty), free use.

Many pieces were published about the death of Silva Ferreira, amongst which stands out “Claudia Silva Ferreira, 38 years old, janitorial worker, killed by being dragged by a military police car”, published by Camila de Magalhães Gomes on the blog “Blogueiras Feministas” (Feminist Bloggers):

Image posted by the collective "Se não tiver direitos não vai ter copa" (If there are no rights, there will not be a World Cup) on Facebook. Free use.

Image posted by the collective “Se não tiver direitos não vai ter copa”(If there are no rights, there will not be a World Cup) on Facebook. Free use.

Quem vai gritar por Claudia? Quem vai saber seu nome além dos familiares e das pessoas de sua comunidade? Quem vai se insurgir contra os criminosos fardados, agentes do estado? Quem pedirá a responsabilização desses agentes? Por que o barulho diante dessa brutalidade perpetrada por agentes públicos é tão menor?

Who will shout for Claudia? Who will know her name aside from her family and the people of her community? Who will rise up against the uniformed criminals, agents of the state? Who will ask that these agents be held responsible? Why is this outcry in the face of this brutality perpetrated by public agents so little?

Amanda Vieira wrote in a piece titled “Claudia Silva Ferreira: shot, dragged, and killed by the military police. Until when?” on the blog “FemMaterna”:

Para a grande maioria dos jornais, uma mulher faleceu. Para nós, faleceu Claudia Silva Ferreira, uma pessoa que tinha uma identidade, uma história, um nome digno de ser mencionado nas manchetes de jornais. Ela tinha uma vida digna de ser preservada, tanto quanto qualquer outra neste país que, pelo menos oficialmente, não aceita pena de morte.

For the great majority of newspapers, a woman died. For us, Claudia Silva Ferreira died, a person that had an identity, a story, a name worthy of being mentioned in newspaper headlines. She had a life worthy of being preserved, as much as anyone else in this country that, at least officially, does not accept the death penalty.

Activist Fabiano Camilo reflected in “‘The woman who was dragged’- violated bodies and the naturalization of the police violence”:

A violência policial, que na sociedade brasileira adquiriu a dimensão de um hábito, passando a ser naturalizada e tacitamente justificada, motivo pelo qual não nos surpreende e não nos indigna, dirige-se, antes de tudo, contra os corpos que nossa cultura significa como passíveis de ser violentados: corpos índios, corpos negros, corpos pobres ou miseráveis, corpos femininos cisgêneros, corpos transgêneros, corpos não-heterossexuais. Não obstante, não são esses os únicos corpos que podem ser violentados pela polícia militar.

Police violence, which in Brazilian society has acquired a sense of habit, is starting to become naturalized and tacitly justified, the reason for which does not surprise us and does not repulse us, directed above all against the bodies that our culture identifies as acceptable of being violated: indigenous bodies, black bodies, poor bodies, or miserable bodies, feminine bodies, transgender bodies, non-heterosexual bodies. Nevertheless, these aren't the only bodies that can be violated by the military police.

Civil police officer Lucas Ed summarized on Facebook the feelings of many:

A Cláudia não merecia, o marido dela não merecia, os filhos, os sobrinhos que ela criava. Os cariocas não mereciam ver aquilo, os brasileiros, os seres humanos.
Que coisa triste.

Claudia didn't deserve it, her husband didn't deserve it, nor her kids, nor her nieces and nephews that she cared for. The people of Rio didn't deserve to see this, nor the Brazilian people, nor any human being. What a sad thing to happen.

This post was updated on March 31, 2014. Due to a mistranslation, a previous version of this post said that Claudia Silva Ferreira was attached to the military police's vehicle with a rope. She was actually attached by her clothing, which was caught on the trunk of the vehicle.


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