Brazil’s far-right leader Bolsonaro says police should be allowed to gun down suspects ‘like cockroaches’

Tim Wyatt

Criminals should be killed “in the street like cockroaches”, Brazil’s far-right president has said in a controversial interview.

Jair Bolsonaro said changes he hoped to make to the country’s criminal code would allow police officers and civilians to shoot supposed offenders without fear of prosecution.

The hardline president is famous for favouring the aphorism “a good criminal is a dead criminal” and has often spoke of his plans to make it easier for people to carry guns in public.

In the interview, broadcast on YouTube on Monday, Mr Bolsonaro said if congress approved his revisions to the criminal code it would see criminals gunned down in droves.

“These guys are going to die in the streets like cockroaches – and that’s how it should be.”

The only way to make a “dramatic” dent in Brazil’s high rate of violent crime was to provide “legal cover” to police officers so they can freely use their firearms on suspects, he added.

The current legal framework was imbalanced and gave the “bad guy” more rights than the “good citizen”, Mr Bolsonaro claimed.

“We have to give a legal back up to the security people: civil, military, federal, road police,” he said, adding those who use their guns in the line of duty should be decorated, not subject to investigations.

The trenchant remarks have been criticised by Brazilian human rights campaigners and opposition figures alike.

A veteran activist and lawyer, Ariel de Castro Alves, said the president’s comments were “abhorrent”.

“We’ve had 414 killings committed by military police in São Paulo [in the first half of 2019] – that is the highest number since 2003,” he told The Guardian.

“He is encouraging police violence and ends up serving as a kind of instigator of brutality.”

There has also been a sharp rise in police killings in Rio de Janeiro, the country’s next largest city.

Security forces in Rio killed 558 people in the first four months of 2019, the highest rate since the state started keeping records more than 20 years ago.

The governor of Rio state and close ally of Mr Bolsonaro, Wilson Witzel, has hailed the increase as responsible for the drop in the murder rate and has said police should be allowed to pre-emptively kill anyone seen carrying a rifle.

Activists warn the political climate was in fact providing cover for widespread extrajudicial killings.

“Summary executions are being carried out in favelas and other peripheral areas,” said Renata Souza, a Rio state representative who has urged the United Nations and the Organisation of American States to investigate.

“It is a barbaric state policy that amounts to genocide.”

Robert Muggah, the head of the thinktank Igarape Institute, agreed. “Our concern is that this kind of rhetoric can encourage police to deploy more excessive force and could result, in fact, in more police violence than is currently the case,” he told The Guardian.

Murders in Brazil fell by 25 per cent in the first two months of 2019 compared with the previous year, but experts say this decline began long before Mr Bolsonaro took office.