Testimony before the Human Rights Commission of US Congress

Statement by Elizabeth Martin

June 9, 2016


I am the daughter of a policeman from Massachusetts and my nephew was killed by a policeman in Brazil. I sat here 6 years ago telling the story about the murder of my nephew Joseph. I know that my story is not the norm when it comes to police brutality in Brazil, the circumstances of Joseph’s murder don’t fit neatly in Brazil’s narrative. But my pain does. My loss does. The year Joseph was murdered, 15% of all the murders in Rio were committed by the police.


I sat here and wept as I read quotes and statistics about the Rio police.

Six years later I am here to tell you little has changed

Police in Brazil kill 8 people a day1

Police in Brazil kill at a rate 5 times greater than in the US2

In 2010 I spoke about the Commander of a precinct in Rio, who was quoted as saying the police are “the best social insecticide”.

Today, I merely update my testimony with an equally ugly but more recent quote.

In a chat captured on WhatsApp during the protests prior to the World Cup a police officer chatting with his fellow officers, wrote about the protestors,

“Kill! That way you immobilize them forever … kill them all.” 3

As I said, nothing has changed.


I sat here 6 years ago with fear and a prediction, but today with facts. I predicted that police lethality would increase prior to the World Cup and the Olympics, and today we know, that prediction came true.

By the Brazilian government’s own accounting in the 6 months leading up to the World Cup, in the state of Rio, the rate of police killing citizens increased 45%

In the city of Sao Paulo, the rate of police killing citizens increased 138% 4


In an article by Bruce Douglas “The story of Brazil’s Killer Cops” a police Sergeant said, “My job is to protect people. And if someone is killed, it’s not me who is doing the killing. It’s the state. The state gives me this power.” 5 He is correct; the police are an arm of the government. The statistics I quoted demonstrate a clear lack of commitment to reform. But the current situation demonstrates this graphically. Under Temer, the Ministry of Human Rights was consolidated into the Ministry of Justice—now led by Alexandre de Moraes, a former security official from São Paulo who has been accused of 1) deploying death squads to fight crime, 2) increasing the rate police kill citizens by 61%, and it is worth noting 3) that during his tenure police in Sao Paulo were responsible for 1 in 4 murders. 6


Last October Renate Winter vice president of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that this wave of police violence in Brazil is done in order to “present a problem-free city to the world” for the Olympics. So let’s be clear, the United Nations has accused the government of Brazil, of killing children as part of their Olympic preparations. 7


Police claim they are fighting crime, killing and acting as judge, jury and executioner. Unless there is international uproar over the barbarism of the Brazilian police, the state of terror the poor and Black population live under will continue. It is not our fault that the police in Brazil are killing to prepare for the Olympics but it is our fault if we do nothing to stop it. Desmond Tutu said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” And history has taught us that silence is not a neutral act.


I want to conclude with the story of Claudia. Claudia’s death graphically illustrates police strategies and the structural systems in place that perpetuate them: Claudia da Silva Ferreira was an innocent bystander killed in crossfire between police and a gang. Three police put her body in the back of their car. As they drove through the city the door opened and Claudia’s body fell out. Her clothing snagged on the car and she was dragged several hundred meters. There was public outrage over this because there was video of her being dragged through the city. Even President Rousseff spoke about the tragedy. However, what is most chilling and most telling about this horrific event, is the fact that between the 3 cops implicated in this, their work records indicated they were collectively responsible for killings 69 civilians. There are serial killers among the ranks of the Brazilian police.8


When the Games are over the genocide will continue, and the Rio Olympic legacy will be thousands dead throughout Brazil because of a state that kills its citizens and the silence of tourists, athletes, and spectators. If we continue this shameful and culpable silence we are conspirators in the slaughter of young Black men, women and children throughout Brazil.



  1. Brazilian Forum on Public Security Yearbook
  1. Killed by police rates: Source: n

To compare the US to Brazil police in Brazil kill 15 per million while police in the US kill 3 per million; or police in Brazil kill at a rate 5 times greater than in the US

Population KBP 2014 Per million
US 322 million Est. 1095 3 Wash Post 796 as of 296 day of 2015 = 3 per day
Brazil 203 million 3022 15 Brazil Forum Public Security
  1. Instituto de Seguranca Publica
  1. Bruce Douglas, “The Story of Brazil’s Killer Cops” British GQ, July 13, 2015.
  1. Alexandre de Moraes (PSDB), government Justice Minister Temer

New minister was lawyer Cunha and is old friend Michel Temer. OGlobo, May 13, 2016.

  1. UN Body Accuses Brazil’s Military Police of Killing Kids to ‘Clean Streets’ for Olympics, World Cup, Telesur, on line, October 13, 2015.
  1. “Police in Brazil, Serial Killing”, The Economist, The Americas. March 20, 2014.


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