Blog: Sao Paulo

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May 9, 2011

Five Years After Deadly May 2006 São Paulo Attacks, Report Documents Role of State Violence and Corruption in Organized Crime


Report by Harvard’s International Human Rights Clinic and Brazilian NGO demonstrates central role of police brutality, corruption, and prison mismanagement in major security crisis of May 2006 and today

May 9, 2011, São Paulo, Brazil—Five years ago, a series of coordinated uprisings in 74 detention centers and attacks on police stations and public buildings left 43 state officials and hundreds of civilians dead and brought South America’s largest city and financial capital to a standstill.  São Paulo streets were deserted as residents stayed at home in fear.  After the violence coordinated by the organized crime syndicate the “First Command of the Capital” (Primeiro Comando da Capital, or “PCC” by its Portuguese initials) stopped, police killed scores of civilians in a wave of reprisal attacks, targeting those they suspected of having criminal backgrounds, in many cases relying apparently only on the youth, skin color, presence of tattoos and presence on the streets of poor neighborhoods at night.  Evidence in 122 killings contains signs of police having committed an extrajudicial execution.

Today, five years later, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic  and the leading Brazilian human rights group Justiça Global release a comprehensive study of the May 2006 attacks.  The Report, “São Paulo sob Achaque: Corrupção Crime Organizado e Violência Institutional em Maio de 2006”, seeks to answer several questions essential to public security in Brazil: What led to the attacks?  Why were state authorities unable or unwilling to prevent them?  Why and how did the police lash out violently in revenge killings?  Why have the crimes committed by the state not been investigated, and in many cases, apparently covered up?

The result of five years of investigation—including hundreds of interviews; scores of on-site visits to jails, prisons, and communities affected by violence; meetings with a broad range of authorities; and a  review of thousands of pages of documents, police reports, and judicial records—sheds new light on the May 2006 attacks.  “Official corruption, tragically, was a driving force behind the May attacks.  PCC leaders—new information in the study confirms—coordinated their assault in large part as a response to a series of organized shakedowns by the police,” said Fernando Delgado, a fellow at Harvard Law School and the principal author of the report.  “The evidence indicates that a year prior to the attacks, police were using wiretaps, kidnapping, and other abuse of family members of gang leaders to extract bribes.  The PCC decided to retaliate brutally and brought the city to a halt.”

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