A bullet in the face of society

Debate addresses police violence against the press and controversial court ruling Debate addresses police violence against the press and controversial court ruling

The growing wave of police violence against press professionals at protests was the topic of a debate between journalists, lawyers and almost 60 students on Wednesday (October 15), at the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).


In addition to the photographers Sérgio Silva and Alex Silveira, who were blinded by rubber bullets fired by the São Paulo Military Police while they were covering protests, representatives of the São Paulo Public Defender’s Office, Conectas and Ponte also participated in the debate.


Silva and Silveira gave their accounts of how they lost their eyesight and expressed indignation over the recent ruling by the São Paulo courts that put the blame on Silveira for having been shot by the police.


The photographer was wounded during a teachers protest in 2000, when he worked for the newspaper Agora SP. He filed a lawsuit claiming compensation from the State and won his case in a trial court. However, in September last year, the decision was overturned by an appeals court. It was decided that Silveira had put himself and remained in a situation of risk, and was solely responsible for the incident. The reporter and photographer, who had been fighting for 14 years since his injury in the courts for material and moral damages, had his requests denied and will also have to pay for the court costs.  


“This was a political decision,” claimed Silveira. He said that the decision in the case will directly impact the judgment of other cases filed against the State by people wounded in demonstrations. “After this decision, any citizen will be considered responsible if they are a victim of police violence,” he said.


The case of Sérgio Silva may be one of them. Struck by a rubber bullet while he was covering a protest against the increase in bus fares in São Paulo in 2012, the photographer is still awaiting the court decision.


“When they shot me, they could have shot a workman, a housewife or any other person who happened to be there right then,” explained Silva. “The bullet was not aimed at me, but at society.”


Civil Public Action – Outside the law or ‘delusional’?


According to the public defender Rafael Lessa, from the Human Rights Center of the Public Defender’s Office, the Military Police have not been complying with national and international standards that regulate the use of force and firearms by the police. “The police may fire below the waist and only when the person is armed. All national and international standards specify this,” he stressed.


He noted that the work of the Military Police is governed by specific rules that must be strictly observed. Conectas and the Human Rights Center of the São Paulo Public Defender’s Office submitted to the São Paulo State Public Security Department (SSP), in August 2013, a series of recommendations on how the police should act in these circumstances. No response was ever given.


In April 2014, the Office filed a Public Civil Action against the SSP asking the courts to compel the State to adopt the measures in the document. The case is currently pending in the 10th Public Finance Court and, to date, Judge Valentino Aparecido de Andrade has not decided on the injunction requested by the Public Defender’s Office. As a means of comparison, the injunction for the repossession of the São João building, in downtown São Paulo, was issued on the same day as the filing.


However, the State Attorney General’s Office, the representative of the São Paulo government in the case, has already made a statement claiming that the lawsuit filed by the Public Defender’s Office is “delusional” and that society cannot try to control the police.


Conectas submitted an amicus curiae brief – a presentation by an interested third party in a public interest case – clarifying the international standards on the use of force and demonstrating that the São Paulo Military Police is not complying with the standards that have existed since 1979 that were developed in the UN and the OAS.


In the debate, Rafael Custódio, coordinator of the Justice program at Conectas, spoke about the need to reform the existing police model, which “is not compatible with the democratic rule of law”. Since the military police are, as the Constitution states, “ancillary forces of the Army”, they are trained to treat civil society with violence and brutality. “The police are one of the few institutions that did not go through the transition to democracy,” he said.


Pressure cooker


The state legislator João Paulo Nilo also took part in the debate to speak about Bill 647/2013, drafted by state legislator Francisco Campos Tito, which bans the use of 12 caliber rubber bullets by the São Paulo state public security agencies. Nilo expressed concern with the progress of the bill, given the new composition of the São Paulo state legislature after the elections.


“The solution is to keep up the pressure,” said Liane Lira, of the mobilization network Minha Sampa. “The bill is currently in the Constitution, Justice and Drafting Commission of the state legislature. I suggest that everybody use the Pressure Cooker tool to pressure the decision-makers to approve it.”


A virtual mobilization application, the Pressure Cooker sends emails directly to the legislators serving on the Commission calling for the ban on the abusive use of rubber bullets to be approved.

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