‘The army didn't kill anyone,’ says Bolsonaro after soldiers fire 80 times at family car in Brazil, killing one

Army officers on patrol in Rio de Janeiro, in 2018. Image: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil, republication permitted with attribution.

On April 7, a Sunday, musician Evaldo dos Santos Rosa, 51, was on his way to a baby shower in Guadalupe, a poor neighborhood in the city of Rio de Janeiro. In the car with him were his father-in-law, his wife, their 7-year-old son, and a friend. The sun was up, and it seemed like a regular weekend in Brazil's largest coastal city.

As they drove by an army compound nearby, soldiers fired a hail of bullets towards the car. Evaldo was killed on the spot, while his father-in-law along with a passerby that was near the scene were injured. The other passengers managed to escape.

The police, which inspected the scene, later revealed the car was shot 80 times. Leonardo Salgado, police chief, said he believed the officers mistook Evaldo's car to another one used by criminals which they were after, according to news website G1. He added that police didn't find any weapons on Evaldo's car.

Luciana Nogueira, Evaldo's wife of 27 years who survived the shooting, told Estado de S. Paulo:

Os vizinhos começaram a socorrer (o meu marido), mas eles continuaram atirando. Eu botei a mão na cabeça, pedi socorro, disse pra eles que era meu marido, mas eles não fizeram nada, ficaram de deboche.

The neighbors started to help (my husband), but [the soldiers] kept shooting. I put my hands on my head, cried for help, told them that he was my husband, but they didn’t do anything, the just stood there with debauchery.

While the brutal murder of an innocent man by state officials has shocked Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro remained silent about the incident for six days.

When he finally spoke, at a press conference on April 12, he said: “The army didn't kill anyone, the army is of the people, and you can't accuse the people of murder.”

Previously, the only words that came out of Planalto Palace, the executive's seat, was through the president's spokesperson, who referred to Evaldo's execution as “an incident” without offering condolences to his family.

In the evening of April 8, Rio de Janeiro's State Governor Wilson Witzel, an ally of Bolsonaro, declared that “it wasn’t up to him to make a judgment”

Two days later, Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro only said the killing was “unfortunate” during an interview to a TV show.

This is the number of mentions on Twitter by Bolsonaro’s cabinet to the shooting aimed at a family car in Rio de Janeiro. Yes, the graphic is EMPTY, because no one manifested themselves, not even to say they felt sorry for what happened. The car was shot 80 times by military men.

Military investigation

Shortly after news about the episode began circulating in the media, the army put out a statement saying its men were responding to “unfair aggression by assailants.” Later in the evening of April 7, it released a different note, this time saying that it would conduct an investigation.

Although the civil police inspected the scene, they will not investigate the case. The army itself will do it instead, and a military court will eventually try the soldiers. That's thanks to a 2017 law that says armed forces themselves are responsible for investigating homicides committed by their personnel while on duty.

Human Rights Watch, who has criticized the law at the time of its approval by President Michel Temer, put out a statement on April 9 calling for an impartial investigation of the murder of Evaldo, and for the law to be repealed.

On April 8, the military arrested 10 of the 12 officers who had been deployed to the scene and charged them with homicide and attempted homicide, according to local newspaper Extra. A judge released one of the 10 officers on April 10 following a hearing.

Not the first time

Brazil's police are known for “shooting first, asking later,” a saying that has been proven right time and again.

An International Amnesty’s report released this year says Brazilian police is the most deadly in the world. Only in 2018, 15,6 percent of all homicides in the country were committed by law enforcement agents. Just in Rio de Janeiro state, and just in January 2019, police have killed 160 people.

A bill dubbed “anticrime package” which the Bolsonaro's government is proposing in Congress could potentially increase those already-staggering figures. The bill seeks to change several directives that will either scrape or significantly reduce penalties of police and military officers when they kill someone while on duty.

The circumstances of the murder of Evaldo, a 51-year-old black man, is not an exception but the rule in Brazil, as Samira Bueno and Renato Sérgio de Lima, directors of the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, have said in an article for Folha de São Paulo:

Evaldo teve sua vida ceifada por aqueles que juraram defendê-la. Seu filho jamais se livrará do trauma de ter assistido ao pai ser fuzilado por agentes estatais. Mas que fique claro que a culpa não é apenas daqueles que apertaram o gatilho. Ou começamos a responsabilizar toda a cadeia de comando pelos atos cometidos, ou vamos continuar contando os nossos mortos e desacreditando as nossas instituições.

Evaldo has had his life taken from him by those who had sworn to defend it. His son will never be over the trauma of watching his father being shot at by state agents. But let us be clear that the fault lies not only with those who have pulled the trigger. Either we start holding the entire chain of command accountable to their acts, or we will continue to count our dead while discrediting our institutions.

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