in São Paulo when two assailants drove up on a motorcycle and shot her ten times in the back, throat and abdomen.
Maria Umbelina da Silva was a forty-four-year-old cop. Her eleven-year-old daughter, who’d witnessed it all, screamed for help, but it was too late. Her mother never made it to a hospital.
Two days earlier, another police officer was murdered at the jiujitsu academy where he gave classes. Two days later, a third was shot dead in front of his family while returning from a church service.
All together, almost a hundred São Paulo cops have been killed, half of them assassination style, since the most recent wave of violence began.
The cops have reacted to the threat by doing some killing of their own: almost 300 people in the course of the last two months.
Some were known criminals.
Others were perfectly-innocent victims who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s an eye-for-an-eye escalating war going-on between the forces of law-and-order and the PCC, Brazil’s largest and most notorious gang.
In the past week, we’ve seen helicopter coverage of a high-speed chase and deadly shootout on the belt road around the city, a video (shot by a bystander on his cell phone – and aired on a national network) showing five cops killing an unarmed felon in cold blood, the arson of several buses, and the death of more than fifty non-combatants, including a sixty-three-old man who was run over when a bus driver tried to flee attackers.
It all goes back to May of this year when three police officers murdered a PCC member in the course of a drug bust.
The police were jailed, and face charges, but it wasn’t enough to mollify the leaders of the gang.
Most of those orders have been issued, via mobile phones, from incarcerated gang leaders.
Why not simply take away the phones?
Prison officials do, but the crooks are constantly being supplied with new ones, generally by other, more corrupt, prison officials.
Jam the signals?
It can’t be done without interfering with mobile coverage in the area of the prisons – and that has been blocked, in court, by both service providers and citizen’s groups.
But it’s also true that the cops aren’t working too hard to overturn the judgments. Instead, they’re tapping the calls and, although the criminals have learned to speak in codes, the police have become adept at cracking them.
Another complication is that São Paulo’s prison system doesn’t have the capacity to isolate dangerous inmates.
The federal prisons do, but the last time the state government tried to move PCC leaders into them (in 2006) it unleashed a wave of violence resulting in attacks on police precincts with automatic weapons and hand grenades.
And in the death of almost five hundred people.
Like I said, it’s a war.
Leighton - Monday