Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has said he hopes criminals will “die in the streets like cockroaches” as a result of hard-line legislation he is pushing to shield security forces and citizens who shoot alleged offenders from prosecution.
In an interview broadcast on Monday, Bolsonaro said he hoped Congress would approve his controversial plans to expand the so-called excludente de ilicitude – an article in Brazil’s criminal code that makes some normally illegal acts permissible.
Activists fear that could cause a bloodbath, but Bolsonaro claimed it would provide much-needed “legal cover” to police officers who used lethal force in the line of duty and bring a “dramatic” drop in violence.
“These guys [criminals] are going to die in the streets like cockroaches [if such protections are approved] – and that’s how it should be,” he said.
Bolsonaro argued Brazilian police were fighting an “unequal” battle against crime and should be decorated for using their guns, not taken to court.
“Upstanding citizens” also deserved protection if they needed to use lethal force to protect their lives or properties.
The remarks, inflammatory even by Bolsonarian standards, were applauded by supporters but sparked outrage among campaigners and the opposition.
“These are abhorrent comments,” said Ariel de Castro Alves, a veteran human rights activist and lawyer in São Paulo.
Alves claimed Bolsonaro’s truculent and dehumanising discourse had already caused a spike in deadly police violence – largely against poor, young, black men – and feared the planned legislation would make things even worse.
“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 is encouraging police violence and ends up serving as a kind of instigator of brutality,” Alves said.
Robert Muggah, the head of a Brazilian thinktank the Igarapé Institute, said there had been a similar spike in slayings in Rio de Janeiro where police gunned down 434 people in the first three months of 2019.
“This is the highest number recorded in over two decades,” Muggah said.
In the first six months of this year Rio police reportedly killed 881 people – or one person every five hours.
“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,” Muggah added.
“This is clearly a concern in a country that already registers the highest absolute amount of lethal violence and some of the highest levels of police killings in the world.”
Last year Brazilian police killed nearly 6,200 people compared to 5,225 in 2017, official figures show.