August 26, 2013
Seventy days ago, the police in São Paulo conducted one of the most violent repressions of a demonstration since the end of the military dictatorship. On an evening of collective horror rarely seen in more than 30 years of democracy, thousands of people who were participating in a peaceful protest in the city center were surrounded by military police officers and trapped in a violent labyrinth long into the evening of June 13, 2013, the tragic consequences of which are still being felt today, especially by those who will carry the physical scars for the rest of their lives.
The military police indiscriminately chased, arrested, assaulted and wounded not only demonstrators, but also journalists and residents from the neighborhoods along the route of the marchers. Even several hours after the event, squad cars were still patrolling streets far from the epicenter of the protests, searching streets and bars for young people who had participated in the demonstration.
This information has emerged from 10 testimonies recorded by Conectas Human Rights and presented here, together, for the first time. They suggest that, instead of trying to disperse the demonstrators, the police encircled thousands of people, trapping them in a maze of tear gas filled streets and firing on them with rubber bullets and light and sound grenades in the downtown region of the city.
Read also: After the repression, Conectas and others file complaints against police and government of São Paulo. Cases are submitted to the São Paulo State and Federal Prosecutor’s Offices
But the obscurity surrounding the events of the evening of 06/13 is so great that the government of the state of São Paulo is even ignoring the Freedom of Information Law. On Friday (08/23), the legal deadline expired for the São Paulo State Public Security Department to answer 8 questions submitted by Conectas based on this law (12,527/2011). After a legal deadline of 20 days, extended for another 10 days, no response has been given, even to questions as simple as: “who gave the order?”
From the government, therefore, little is known. From the assaulted, however, it is impossible not to know. The stories speak for themselves.
‘I felt the impact of the bullet in my eye. I was blinded’
S.A.S., a 31-year-old photographer, is married and a father of two girls aged 7 and 13. On the evening of the protest, he went out to work. His assignment was to photograph the demonstration for Agência Futura Press, but he ended up, a few hours later, hospitalized in the H.Olhos eye hospital, after being first admitted to the 9 de Julho hospital, where received three doses of morphine to control the pain caused by two fractures of the orbital bone. S.A.S. needed three stitches inside his left eye and he was left permanently blind. “I was hit by a rubber bullet. I’m nearly six feet tall and the bullet hit me right in the eye. There is a recommendation for the military police to only fire these bullets below the waist. The police acted outside their own regulations. They fired at the height of my head,” he said.
This was the same sensation experienced by J.M., a 22-year-old law student. “I felt a rubber bullet hit me in the back. So I turned my head to see what was happening. I saw a police car and an officer with a gun. Then I felt another rubber bullet hit the curve of my neck near the shoulder. Can you believe that? I wasn’t doing anything, I felt sick from the tear gas and I was lagging behind the others who were fleeing the scene, and I was hit right in the neck. I was shocked by that,” he said.
Cases like these reveal the potential for causing irreversible damage that “less-lethal weapons” have when used against vital organs and at close range.
“The pain was intense, extreme, terrible. All the worst adjectives you could use to describe pain, that’s what I felt right then. My eye swelled up quickly. I put my hand over my eye and the eyelid had already closed. There was a lot of blood and I thought: ‘I’m blind. I won’t be able to photograph any more’. That was the sensation I had,” said S.A.S.
Even if people like him had wanted to avoid the police that evening, they would not have been able to. According to all the reports, no clear order was given on where to go to avoid the turmoil. There were no safe places and the police pursued people even in places far from the demonstration, and hours later.
‘It was an ambush. They sealed off all the exits’
The demonstrators spent hours surrounded in narrow streets, under the effects of tear gas and fired upon with rubber bullets and light and sound grenades, roaming helplessly around a four-point area between Rua da Consolação, Praça Roosevelt, Rua Maria Antônia and Rua Augusta, in the city center (see map). According to the reports, it was as if the police had caught them all in a big trap of tear gas, explosions and violence.
“I saw a police squad descending Consolação down to the city center, towards the demonstrators while another squad came from Rua Maria Antônia. I had the feeling we were being ambushed because they came at us from both sides, weapons drawn, firing at people,” recalled the photographer S.A.S.
“We were confined within one large street block, a confinement area planned by the police. You had no choice but to stay there, watching people being assaulted and running the risk of being assaulted yourself,” said C.C., a cultural producer, revealing that the “ambush” tactic mentioned by S.A.S. was also used on Avenida Paulista. “There were a lot of police, a lot of mounted police, an armored vehicle, and the officers were firing tear gas for no apparent reason, in all directions.”
“People didn’t know where to go. People were dispersing and gathering in other places. The subway was closed. We were trapped between Rua da Consolação and Rua Augusta,” said C.C., who added that the worst moment was “when a group of 10 people asked to enter the subway station, to leave the area. In the group, there was a lady who must have been 60 or 70 years old. They were on their way home from work. When we were talking to the employee at the subway station, four police offers sped over on motorbikes, one of which nearly ran me over. The officers said: ‘There’s no subway today, nobody’s going home’, while hitting people with their batons. People scattered in all directions, but there was nowhere to go. People on the sidewalk were ordered to go to the street and the people on the street were ordered to stand on the sidewalk. Nobody was able to leave.”
Even those who sought refuge in an open area, like Praça Roosevelt square, were chased away. R.F., a 22-year-old law student, said he sought out the square because he thought the police would attend to the traffic disruption caused by the demonstration. “So it was a surprise when they started to fire tear gas at people in the square. There was no reason to do so, because we were already in the square, away from Rua da Consolação,” he said.
“They were surrounding us,” explained R.F., who after leaving the square went up towards Avenida Paulista, which he said was the only possible way to go. “We were all sitting on the sidewalk with our heads down. We were totally submissive, scared to death. This was when, to our surprise, the police started to fire tear gas at us. Since they were on both corners, we had to run past them to disperse, while the whole time they were firing rubber bullets. People were falling to the ground, getting trampled, it was terrifying.”
‘They hit me repeatedly’
“They punched and kicked me in the face and stomach. I was lying on the floor of a police bus, with my head under a bench while one police officer had his foot on me. “So you want to protest? Protest now, you dumb bitch,” the officer told me, said M.C., a visual arts student who was trapped on Avenida Paulista at around 8 p.m. on July 13.
“Get out of here, you whore,” the 24-year-old radio and TV student A.L. said she was told by one police officer, also on Avenida Paulista. She and her boyfriend say they were beaten up by the police after being insulted while sitting in a bar near where the demonstration was due to pass.
‘I looked for the names of the police officers on their lapels. There were none’
Another common claim among the people who were assaulted by the police is that many of the officers were not wearing any personal identification. The inability to identify the perpetrators of any illegal acts makes its almost impossible to hold them responsible.
“I looked for the names of the police officers on their lapels. There were none,” said A.G., who was assaulted with her boyfriend in a bar on Avenida Paulista.
“When I was arrested, a photographer took photos of the police officers who assaulted me, but I think all the officers on Avenida Paulista had no identification. The photos show that the place where the identification should be was blank,” said M.C.
“The police were acting crazy and out of control in this demonstration. They were very disorganized. It seemed as if nobody was in charge, because they were all doing the most absurd things, such as arresting people, beating them up and then letting them go,” she said.
Discrimination in police stations, hospitals and forensic facilities
Many of the interviewees related the difficulties they encountered obtaining medical attention in public hospitals. Others spoke about the inadequate treatment they received in police stations. And, finally, people who were injured in the demonstrations told us about the problems taking medical forensic examinations.
A common feature of the reports was the preferential treatment given to the police. At Santa Casa hospital, for example, one of the interviewees revealed that the police officers who came to the First Aid center went to the front of the line, when in fact people should treated in accordance with the seriousness of their injuries.
At the forensic medical centers, according to the reports, people had to identify whether they had been in the demonstration and, if so, wait separately from everybody else to have their injuries examined. This involved a longer waiting time and, they claim, less attention by the employees.
“We went to the forensic center at Clínicas. When I arrived, there must have been 20 people there. The first question they asked me was: ‘Are you a demonstrator? Wait over there and wait quietly’. They let everybody else be seen first. The doctor looked at me and also asked: ‘Were you in the demonstration? I said yes and he replied: ‘Ah, okay’, before taking a photograph of my lesser injury. ‘Is that all?’ I asked. He just looked at me. I don’t know how these types of exams work, but I thought he was prejudiced,” said A.L.
“I was advised, even by the people at the Ombuds Office where I filed a formal complaint, to file a police complaint report. My lawyer advised me to file a police complaint, but I didn’t feel at all comfortable going to the station in Santa Cecília, because I realized that I was going to file a complaint against the police inside a police station, so I was scared, a little uneasy. I didn’t want to have to sit waiting all day, putting up with the clerk’s sarcasm,” said J.G., aged 30.
“Several police officers arrived at Santa Casa, at the First Aid center, and they were all treated before anybody else. I don’t know if there is some municipal or state law allowing this, but it disgusted me. There was a deep cut on my arm, lots of people were bleeding, with head injuries, their bodies covered in blood, while police officers, with scrapes or a joint dislocation, something like that, were seen first,” said M.L., a 25-year-old student of public policy management.
In the news:
Military police repression in São Paulo causes support for protests to rise
Conectas in the news :: O Estado de S. Paulo
Organization questions São Paulo government over where responsibility lies for the repression in demonstrations
Conectas in the news :: Última Instância
Demonstrations stem from three points of discontent and discomfort
Conectas in the news :: Exame magazine
Police violence under review in Brazil
Conectas in the news :: Al Jazeera
Mass Protests Sweep Brazil in Uproar over Public Services Cuts & High Costs of World Cup, Olympics
Conectas in the news :: Democracy Now!
In the Balance: Brazil’s Middle Class
Conectas in the news :: BBC