Rio’s Pacifying Police Unit – a Walk Through Favela Morro da Providėncia

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brasil – As the summer is coming to a close for those in the Northern Hemisphere and the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games are now behind us, we cannot help but anticipate the excitement that will ensue in another four years in the shimmering landscape of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Being the first South American city to ever host the Olympic Games we had the opportunity to witness the transformation of a city during the Rio+20 Earth Summit preparing to host 2014 FIFA World Cup Games and 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The series of mega events brings Brazil’s will to become a modern economic powerhouse on the center stage of the international developing community. However, Brazil’s success is threatened by how it will resolve its social and environmental problems, and maybe most important the public’s fear to its blood shed routines in their urban landscape.

On picturesque mountains of Rio de Janeiro scale favelas or shanty towns in organized chaos of urban areas. According to the census data released in December 2011 by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, favela communities are home to 6% or 11.4 million people of Brazil’s population.

Images: Visit of Favela Morro da Providencia (Source: Student Reporter).

For decades, notorious armed drug factions and gangs sat throne in favelas dictating everyone’s first and last step. Shootouts rippled through hills, heavy war on drugs echoed throughout the media waves and shattered residents — who either knew each other or were related — grew to resent all forms of enforcement. Fire fighters, gunshots, funk parties from dusk until dawn, pirated cable and electricity were the norm in the favelas. Music is their religion. Funk parties began with sound check as early as 7pm and could have ended by an argument as late as 6am. Dancing was endless and drugs moved in rhythm all night employing millions.

Residents yearned for an end to a violent war. With over 1,000 favelas in Rio de Janeiro tightened security has been demanded. Shoot to kill was the tactic. Stray bullets made the public fearful and officials tireless in search for policies to alleviate a devastating aftermath. In 2008 in an effort to reclaim territories, State Public Security Secretary José Mariano Beltrame, with the assistance of Sérgio Cabral, implemented the Pacifying Police Unit (Portuguese: Unidade da Polícia Pacificade Policia dora or UPP). For an indefinite period of time, the UPP is placed within a favela to provide intensive law enforcement and improved social service programs.

Would the UPP answer residents prayers? Was this another police raid that would temporarily halt the vicious cycle and labandone them with fewer resources than the gangs would provide them? Time was now the enemy.

Walking through favela, Morro da Providėncia, boarded doors, windows, scattered bullet holes, stray cats and dogs and an eerie silence places your imagination in the middle of battle. Piercing stares, yet heavy hearts of hope welcomed you. It is likely you will see young boys on a roof’s edge in peace testing and teasing the wind with his kite.

As most favelas breathe do-it-yourself projects, the UPP in Morro da Providėncia has gone above and beyond their call of duty to be a permanent community presence within the favela. Supposedly, police are no longer the enemy but a ray of hope and excitement. Residents weren’t the only ones traumatized yearning for change, according to anthropologist and favela researcher Marta-Laura Suska. Under the leadership of Police captain Glauco Schorcht, this unit commands  a new stigma on the hill. 194 policemen and 18 policewomen serve the commitment of the UPP. Around the clock, in sets of two or four they patrol every dark corner alley and stairwell, from top to bottom. They station themselves at various vantage points, next to innocent children or at the bottom of a staircase.

Schorcht with confidence patrols unarmed in Morro da Providencia’s narrow alleys, patiently guiding us through its remaining past. His disarming, yet consistent presence has helped tension subside between residents and heavily armed police officers. Now more residents are afraid to engage in drug trafficking since the police have severely interjected and cracked down on distribution and dealing.  Young boys are less inclined to flirt with a dangerous street life and have started looking up to the officers in clean blue uniforms. Property value has increased in his favela and, residents feel welcomed to stay if they work an honest occupation.

It is evident the community believes in Schorcht’s leadership as they rebuild their trust. Many of the residents have lived in one world their entire life. A world of anguish, desperation and stories you hope are fiction. Nothing can be ignored in a favela and Schorcht goes to great lengths to honor this. His leadership is contagious. Although he adamantly does not allow funk parties, the community surprised him and has noted May 26 and July 17 as annual celebrations of unity. These dates represent the day the UPP started their post and Schorcht’s birthday. Amnesty has only just begun in this community, but has demonstrated a new life and to never look back, but move everyone forward.

Tim Lehmann contributed reporting from Rio.

2 thoughts on “Rio’s Pacifying Police Unit – a Walk Through Favela Morro da Providėncia

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