Prompting locals to publish a pamphlet outlining their rights even though Rio's Santa Marta favela has benefited from police protection for two years, since crime control has sometimes been accompanied by abuse.
"Police Control," a pocket-sized booklet, was put together by "favelados" (slum dwellers) and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, and is intended as an instruction manual on constitutional rights and how to behave at police checkpoints.
AdvertisementWritten in plain language and chock-full of illustrations, the pamphlet makes clear just what police can and cannot do under the law.
"If a police officer calls you a 'preto safado' (a Portuguese epithet for blacks) he's committing racial abuse," or "if he tells you to run without looking back, it's abuse of power, a crime."
And "if they threaten to beat you to make you talk, it's torture, also a crime," the pamphlet said.
"For people like us, who are poor, black and subject to police control, this booklet shields us from the 'worms' (slang for cops). Because when they realize we know our rights, they change their tone," said hip-hop star Gas-Pa at the pamphlet's unveiling Thursday in Santa Marta.
"We can't kid ourselves, the military police (who patrol the favela) were created in 1809 to crush slave revolts and still today 70.2 percent of the people they kill are African descendants," the musician added.
Rio de Janeiro state's Deputy Attorney General for Human Rights Leonardo de Souza Chavez contributed to the pamphlet, which he said stresses that "the downtrodden, the suburban poor understand their citizenship rights."
"The police must approach the poor as they do any other citizen -- there's still a lot of prejudice thrown at favela dwellers."
Santa Marta is a showcase for the public security project the government launched in 2008. It is occupied full-time by a "community police" force trained in helping the local population and chasing drug traffickers and other criminals out of the area.
Even so, de Souza told AFP, the people of Santa Marta "still don't trust the police and there have been reports of abuse of power."
Precisely because the police have taken over the shantytown, "it's the right moment to release this pamphlet and prevent such abuse," said rap-star Fiell, who also attended the unveiling.
"Things are better" in Santa Marta, "but I've still seen people here being insulted by police," said Paulo Henrique, 38, who moved here a year-and-a-half ago when he saw that violence had dropped.
No police were present at Thursday's unveiling of the pamphlet, which eventually will be distributed throughout all Rio's slums.
"The police said it would reserve its comments until it has read the pamphlet," said leftist lawmaker Marcelo Freixo, who spearheaded a congressional investigation into police behavior in the favelas.