Crimes of May: impunity marks 15 years since one of the biggest massacres in São Paulo

In a new condemnation of the slaughter, Conectas seeks the responses that have never been given regarding hundreds of arbitrary executions and four forced disappearances.

In 2016, Mothers unveil memorial to honour the Crimes of May deaths. Photo Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil
In 2016, Mothers unveil memorial to honour the Crimes of May deaths. Photo Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

“I died four years ago. The gunshot that hit my son, hit my heart first. Every bullet that entered his body, entered mine too,” says Debora Maria da Silva, one of the founders of the Mothers of May Movement. Her son, Edson Rogério Silva dos Santos, was 29 when he became one of the victims of the “Crimes of May”.

On 12 May 2006, a criminal faction sparked a series of coordinated rebellions and outside the prisons, encouraged attacks on public agents. Between 12 and 21 May, members of death squads led a ´wave of response´, marked by “intense violence, summary executions, massacres, hundreds of murders and a number of disappearances,” according to the report. The reprisal, which mainly affected the periphery and many people who did not have any links to the faction, came to be known as “Crimes of May”. It left more than 500 dead and 110 injured, according to an evaluation carried out by Conectas and the Rio de Janeiro Federal University. 8.6 civilian deaths to every public agent.

“The same police officer who killed my husband, also killed by son.” Silva states. “We can see that there is a plan to kill the undesirables. And this plan has a colour, class and gender.  It affects the men more, but it also affects the women, the mothers. We must fight against this rifle that is aimed at black youths”.

This was an important statement. As well as helping to found a movement that seeks retractions for the murders and to make demands heard, sometimes in the music of the rapper Emicida, Silva also became a researcher. In 2018, she presented the results of a study she took part in, along with researchers at Unifesp and Oxford University. According to the findings — that analysed 60 Crimes of May deaths in the Baixada Santista – 74.5% of the victims were young, between 15 and 29 years old; 91% were men and 62% died from gunshots to the chest and head. The research also verified that policy inquiries were prematurely closed, showing that the crimes have gone unpunished.

According to Thayná Yaredy, Advisor on the Facing Institutional Violence Programme at Conectas, this high lethality and indifference to solving the crimes shows how the state has failed to uphold the fundamental guarantees of the victims and their families.

Crucified by the violence

Four of the hundreds of victims do not register in the homicide statistics. These are the forced disappearances, who lost even the right to die. Paulo Alexandre Gomes, Paulinho, 23 years old is one of them. “We are left with the sense of loss and the hope that we will find out what happened. But who´s going to tell us?” Mother Maria das Graças Gomes, asked the newspaper,  O Estado de S.Paulo, in 2016. “I think God decided to take over and I don´t know where he is. One day I´ll find out. I don´t know when, but I will find out.” She hopes, recalling the murder of her daughter, at 17 years of age. “We all have a mission here on Earth. Mine was to have three children – two of them were crucified by violence.”

Her third daughter, Francilene Gomes Fernandes, did a Masters in Social Services and wrote her dissertation on Barbarity and Human Rights: Summary Executions and Forced Disappearances in May (2006) in São Paulo, which she defended at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica of São Paulo (PUC-SP). In this piece of work, she points out the similarities between the four victims, who were black or of mixed race and had not completed secondary school education. She also notes that in all four cases, witnesses saw police officers of the Tactical Force and Rota (special force of the São Paulo military police) approaching the victims before they disappeared. And she recalls, quoting research by the Harvard Law Faculty with the NGO, Global Justice, that there is proof of abuse by the police, with the murder of people under circumstances that could not be described as legitimate defence.

As Fernandes writes, “forced disappearance is defined as a serious kidnapping crime – a permanent crime, the end of which cannot be determined before any mortal remains are identified, because there is the possibility that the crime is still being committed.” As well as her brother, the list of the disappeared also includes Ronaldo Procópio Alves, 30 who was on probation; and the car park attendants Diego Augusto Sant’Anna, 15 and Everton dos Santos Pereira, 24.

Animated short film covers the 15 years since the Crimes of May. Watch

“Sadly, public agents involved in the deaths have not been held accountable, nor has there been any investigation of the death squads working at that time.” Yaredy recalls. “This was an important example of the authorities´ indifference in holding public agents responsible for the execution of people, like other episodes in São Paulo and the one at Carandiru.”

In the month when the disappearances complete 15 years, Conectas and the State of São Paulo Public Defender´s Office are presenting a denouncement to the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. “The idea is to oblige the state to take steps towards reparation for the damage and violence suffered by those who disappeared and their families; and to adopt structural measures throughout the whole country to curb and hold responsible the agents involved in the cases of forced disappearance.” Explained Gabriel Sampaio, Coordinator of the Facing Institutional Violence Programme at Conectas.

Despite the fight for rights, for the mothers who lost their children at the hands of the state, no compensation will ever be enough. “When you lose a husband, you become a widow. When you lose your father or mother, you are an orphan.” Explains Debora Maria da Silva, of Mothers of May. “But there is no name for when you lose a child. It´s too difficult to understand.”

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