Across Rio, at least 120 police officers were killed in 2017. Through December, 6,590 people were slain — the highest rate in nearly a decade. Crippled by corruption scandals and economic woes, the “Marvelous City” is floundering. Its police force is broken.
In Rocinha, residents are using cellphone apps to track shootouts. Schools have closed or shortened their hours because of the violence. In September, the army was called in to help pacify the streets. In November, students were trapped inside their homes by gunfire, unable to take their equivalent of the SATs.
The mayhem in the favela of nearly 200,000 people reflects a national plague. Brazil suffered a record 61,000 violent deaths in 2016, a figure greater than the estimated loss of life that year in Syria’s civil war. While the numbers are not directly comparable — Brazil has 10 times more people than Syria — the carnage is still extraordinary.
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For Rocinha, it amounts to a painful reversal of fortune. As Brazil’s economy boomed in recent years, the green shoots of a middle class had sprouted. Bank branches and jewelry stores opened amid Rocinha’s ramshackle huts. Fast-food chains moved in — even sushi bars. Fashion designers came from Paris and New York to draw inspiration from its urban verve. Its hivelike streets were portrayed in the animated Hollywood movie “Rio.” Property values for Rocinha’s shacks — some with million-dollar views of the Christ the Redeemer statue on Mount Corcovado — soared.
The streets were far safer, thanks in part to the city’s pacification police program, which sought to drive out the drug traffickers who had propelled murder rates to deadly highs in the 1990s and were still ubiquitous.
For many like Samantha, the current crime wave is even worse than Rocinha’s earlier years of violence.
“It was nothing like this before,” she said. “Nobody locked their doors. In the middle of the night, if you needed something, you’d go out and get it at the pharmacy. You’d go to the cafe if you were hungry . . . at any hour. [But] these are bad times.”