The murder of a police officer in front of her daughter in Sao Paulo has increased pressure on president Dilma Rousseff and local authorities to halt a drug-related crime wave in which dozens of police have died.
Marta Umbelina da Silva, 44, was opening the garage at her home on Saturday night when two assailants shot her ten times in the back, throat and abdomen, police said. Her 11-year-old daughter screamed for help and Ms da Silva, a mother of three, was taken to a nearby hospital, but she could not be revived.
More than half of the 90 murders of police officers this year in greater Sao Paulo – Brazil’s biggest city and the country’s financial capital – have been similarly execution-style.
The root cause is an escalating, tit-for-tat battle between police and a notorious organised crime group, First Capital Command, or PCC. The violence appears to have been triggered by a drug bust several months ago.
In the past week alone, the city has seen a high-speed chase and deadly shootout on the main highway in the financial district; arson attacks on buses; and the deaths of more than 50 civilians, including a 63-year-old man run over when a bus driver tried to flee attackers.
The bloodshed has so far not caused major disruptions to Sao Paulo’s business community. It also has not approached the mayhem seen in 2006, when the PCC effectively shut down activity in the metropolitan area of 20 million people for several days with orchestrated attacks that left nearly 200 dead.
Nevertheless, the violence has been an embarrassment for local and state officials, as well as Ms Rousseff, who has struggled to contain a nationwide explosion in crack cocaine use and related crime in recent years.
It has also fed doubts over whether Brazil can guarantee safety for visitors during the 2014 World Cup football tournament, which is scheduled to open in Sao Paulo.
“The state can’t ignore this war anymore,” Olimpio Gomes, a legislator in Sao Paulo state, told reporters at Ms da Silva’s funeral on Sunday.
Ms Rousseff offered to send in the army, which has successfully fought traffickers in Rio de Janeiro. But Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin rejected that idea yesterday, saying the state’s 130,000-strong police force already has enough manpower. But he accepted her offer to transfer some PCC leaders to maximum-security federal prisons, to make it harder for them to co-ordinate violence.
Officials on the front line of the conflict say the bloodletting appears far from over.
“I fear there’s a tremendous amount of revenge still to come,” said Marcelo Alexandre de Oliveira, a prosecutor and specialist in organised crime, who is investigating police murders. “These are people with nothing to lose.”
He said violence intensified following the arrest of several mid-level drug dealers with links to the PCC. The PCC responding by threatening, and then killing, police officers, Mr Oliveira and other sources said.
Several police murders were followed by a rash of civilian deaths in nearby areas over the following 24 hours.
Human rights groups say the pattern suggests that in some cases, police or affiliated “death squads” are avenging their fallen comrades – a common practice in Brazil.
Mr Gomes said that the PCC has ordered its associates to execute one police officer for every PCC leader who goes to jail and two police officers for every PCC member who is killed.
The PCC has also begun accepting the murder of police officers as payment for drugs from low-level dealers, sources said.
“These police are vulnerable because they have few resources … and we have a state structure that lets criminals walk out of prison,” said Mr Oliveira.
“It’s a tragedy.”