After last week's nationwide demonstrations against Dilma Rousseff's impeachment and against her replacement, President Michel Temer, Brazil witnessed a new wave of street violence this Sunday, September 5.
Organizers say that roughly 100,000 people attended the protest, walking from Paulista Avenue to Largo da Batata, a large square on the Western (and wealthier) side of the city. No violence was reported during the demonstration itself, but police reportedly attacked the crowd with tear gas once people were already making their way home. Michel Laub, a Brazilian writer who attended the rally, says the police moved with without any apparent provocation.
Democratize Agency published footage of the incident:
— Agência Democratize (@agdemocratize) 4 de setembro de 2016
PM represses the demonstration before its end. Guilherme Boulos calls the police action “provocative”.
According to witnesses, a group of police officers—a special unit of the military police specialized in crowd control—approached the demonstrators outside a metro station and started beating people without provocation. Congressman Ivan Valente was present. He later denounced the behavior by the police:
Comando da PM diz que agiu a pedido do Metrô. Mas a segurança do metrô desmentiu a PM e disse que ñ houve vandalismo e que ñ acionou ninguém
— Ivan Valente (@IvanValente) 5 de setembro de 2016
Military Police command says it acted at the request of Metro [company]. But the security guards of the Metro denied that the Military Police version and said that there was no vandalism and never called for backup.
A social scientist at a nearby bar says he heard explosions and ran towards the scene. He tweeted:
No caminho,soube q o pretexto p/a repressão brutal a uma MANIFESTAÇÃO PACÍFICA foi uma discussão da PM c/grupo q queria pegar metrô no largo
— Instituições Sólidas (@cyrusafa) September 5, 2016
On the way, I knew that the pretext for the brutal repression of a PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATION was a discussion of Military Police officers with a group that wanted to get on the subway station.
Alderman Nabil Bonduki published a video of the police response:
— Nabil Bonduki (@spNabil) 5 de setembro de 2016
Regrettable. Military police attacks people in Faria Lima for no reason after the end of the demonstration #ForaTemer
Cartoonist Laerte Coutinho added:
A beautiful demonstration, a quiet crowd, and long walk—in the end the Military Police contributes havoc, claiming vandalism. And it is this moment that the media uses as headline.
The Twitter account Midia Ninja recorded a video of one man's arrest – Hélio Ramos, 37, who was released by the police after midnight:
URGENTE Apos ato com mais de 100 mil pessoas PM ataca manifestantes sem motivo em SP pic.twitter.com/NXadRw6cuX
— Midia NINJA (@MidiaNINJA) 5 de setembro de 2016
The Twitter account of the Military Police later said that officers were only responding to certain vandals:
Em manifestação inicialmente pacífica, vândalos atuam e obrigam PM a intervir com uso moderado da força / munição química.
— POLÍCIA MILITAR – SP (@PMESP) 5 de setembro de 2016
In an initially peaceful demonstration, vandals acted and forced the Military Police intervene with moderate use of force / chemical ammunition.
BuzzFeed published a video of the Largo da Batata engulfed in tear gas:
O ato já tinha acabado. Em tumulto, PM dispara bombas e gás. pic.twitter.com/kwuRFC1XWd
— BuzzFeedNewsBR (@BuzzFeedNewsBR) 4 de setembro de 2016
The demonstration was over. In turmoil, Military Police shoots stun grenades and gas.
Police even fired tear gas into a bus, causing an elderly woman to faint and even causing discomfort for several children. Felipe Souza, a journalist for the BBC, was beaten by Military Police officers despite identifying himself as requested.
The Military Police also attacked people inside bars and restaurants. Democratize Agency recorded footage of some of these incidents:
— Agência Democratize (@agdemocratize) 5 de setembro de 2016
The Military Police attacked bars and restaurants near the Largo da Batata after the demonstration
There's also a video of police officers pepper spraying people chanting outside a bar:
Facebook user Vinicius Duarte wrote:
The Military Police of São Paulo believe that is “necessary means to contain disturbances” to throw tear gas into the subway.
Finds that “dispersal strategy” is to drive with a vehicle in front of a bar with people on the sidewalk and shoot pepper spray in their faces.
Tell that to any police commander in the world (except here, of course) and if you don't show pictures of the event, none of them will believe.
Arrested Before the Protest
Twenty-six people, including eight minors, were arrested at the São Paulo Cultural Center, near Avenida Paulista, on suspicion of planning acts of vandalism during the demonstration, according to Ponte Jornalismo. One of the people arrested was Felipe Ribeiro, 27, who was at the library studying and says didn't plan to attend the demonstration.
Another six people were arrested during the demonstration for wearing black clothing and masks (a outfit associated with Black Blocs).
Eighteen of those detained have been indicted for criminal associations and the corruption of minors (other sources state that the number of underaged suspects is ten). They have all been released on the night of September 5, first the adults, whose charges were dropped by the judge, and then later that same night, the minors.
The supposed evidence against these individuals consists of several discovered items: gas masks and glasses used for eye protection, as well as mobile phones and personal items. The prisoners also spent eight hours without access to lawyers or their parents.
NGO Article 19 criticized the police's action:
As detenções dos jovens configuram violações ao direito de manifestação e à liberdade de expressão, as quais têm aumentado significativamente nos últimos dias em função do cenário político nacional. Além disso, a situação se mostra ainda mais preocupante pelo fato de os detidos terem sido mantidos incomunicáveis por horas e sem acesso à Justiça.
The arrests of the young people constitute violations of the right to protest and of freedom of expression, increasing significantly in recent days due to the national political scene. Moreover, the situation is even more worrying by the fact that the detainees were held incommunicado for hours without access to justice.
Pablo Ortellado, a professor at the Universidade de São Paulo, wrote on Facebook that police apparently hacked the suspects’ WhatsApp accounts to track their plans. Ortellado says law enforcement has exploited its power to “arrest for inquiry,” which he describes as an “illegal remnant of dictatorship.”