HomeTop StoriesBrazilians swear justice for 13-year-old boy shot by police

Brazilians swear justice for 13-year-old boy shot by police

Those who knew Thiago Menezes Flausino described him as a boy with dreams. These were brutally shattered by several police bullets this week, when the 13-year-old became the latest victim of state violence in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

“He dreamed of becoming a professional football player. He had passed tryouts for a bigger team and would start playing the day he was killed,” said his aunt Nataly Bezerra Flausino, standing outside the evangelical church where the funeral of her cousin took place Tuesday – just months after his baptism. .

Thiago was the ninth child under the age of 14 to die in a shooting in Rio this year, according to human rights NGO Rio de Paz. Most are hit by stray bullets, often during the violent police raids that routinely paralyze Rio’s low-income communities, such as the one that left 10 dead earlier this month.

But it wasn’t a stray bullet that killed Thiago in the wee hours of Monday morning on the main road that cuts through Cidade de Deus (City of God), the favela made world famous by Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 film of the same name. His family says that he was executed by military police officers, his only crime was a young black boy riding on the back of a motorbike in a favela.

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“My cousin was hit with more than five gunshots. He’s 13, all small and skinny, the bullets went right through his body,” Flausino sobbed.

Deaths like Thiago’s are unfortunately commonplace in a country where police killed more than 6,400 people last year, 83% of them black. Less than 24 hours earlier, another black youth died near a favela in Rio at the hands of police who chose to shoot first and ask questions later.

Still, Thiago’s young age has sparked particular outrage. “The death of a 13-year-old teenager by a state bullet is a serious sign that we have failed as a society.” tweeted Renata Souza, a left-wing MP.

Thiago’s family, favela activists and famous artists have expressed outrage that police portrayed the child as a drug trafficker with a gun, a story echoed by some people online.

“The state security forces need a way to legitimize this kind of absurdity, so what are they doing? They criminalize and tarnish the image of the person who was killed,” said João Luis Silva, social coordinator of Rio de Paz.

Flausino expressed anger at the deep injustice of her family who had to prove Thiago’s innocence in the midst of their pain. “Those of us who are poor, who live in the favela, who are black, we have to prove everything,” the 30-year-old human resources analyst said as mourners gathered around the small coffin decorated with soccer jerseys and handwritten notes from friends.

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“Thiago didn’t have time to be a gangster,” says Fábio Ferreira da Silva, 47, the coach of a favela football project where the aspiring athlete trained from the age of eight. “He was very talented, respectful, he listened when you talked to him… a cute kid… he definitely had a future as a footballer.”

The local community’s respect and affection for the boy they called Thiaguinho (Little Thiago) was evident in the grief-stricken crowd that filled the church for his funeral. More than 200 people – many of them distraught teenagers wearing white T-shirts with their friend’s picture – then attended the funeral at the nearby Pechincha cemetery, a somber affair marked by calls for justice.

“The state is murderous. … We just want justice, that those responsible pay for what they did to a child with dreams,” says Silvio César, 52, who runs a youth center in Cidade de Deus.

The police and the prosecutor’s office are investigating the circumstances of the murder. Military police officers claim they were shot in the first place. Residents deny this, saying police simulated a gunfight, intimidated witnesses to keep them away from the scene of Thiago’s death and tampered with nearby security cameras.

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Souza, the legislator, has urged authorities to implement the Ágatha Félix law, a piece of state legislation named after an eight-year-old shot in a favela in 2019 that aims to speed up child murder investigations.

But accountability in cases of police brutality is rare, said Cecília Olliveira, executive director of the violence-finding group Fogo Cruzado. “These police officers, they are not prosecuted, they are not convicted, they are not properly investigated, because [institutions] fail,” she said.

City of God residents are not shying away and plan to continue campaigning to achieve justice for the teenager everyone remembers as happy, studious and sporty.

“It’s just fuel for our community, this loss of our player, of our friend, of our son,” said Silva, the coach. “We can’t bring Thiago back. But we want to know, will he be the last, or are there more Thiagos ahead? The community wants answers, we can’t take it anymore.”

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