RIO DE JANEIRO – Angry friends and relatives of a man shot to death by soldiers wailed and waved Brazilian flags spattered with red paint during his funeral Wednesday, four days after an incident that stirred outrage in Latin America’s largest nation.
Evaldo dos Santos Rosa was killed Sunday when his car was shot 80 times by soldiers in an apparent case of mistaken identity that human rights groups say underscores the heavy handedness of authorities in Rio de Janeiro, a city that has struggled to curb violence.
Dos Santos Rosa was driving to a baby shower with his 7-year-old son, his wife, her stepfather and another woman when soldiers started shooting at them. The stepfather was injured as was a pedestrian, but the others in the car were unharmed.
At the funeral, the widow of dos Santos Rosa wailed as her husband’s coffin was carried. She fainted shortly after it was placed in a stone tomb and had to be carried away.
“Justice! Justice!” chanted more than 100 people on hand, holding yellow and green Brazilian flags splattered with red as a symbol of blood.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, was elected last year on promises to crack down on crime, in part by shielding police from prosecution for fatalities during operations. The governor of Rio de Janeiro state, an ally of Bolsonaro, has adopted similar rhetoric, and recently said sharpshooters were being used in operations to kill drug traffickers brandishing automatic weapons.
“Authorities are stimulating a culture of shoot first and find out who it is later,” said Antonio Costa, director of civil rights group Rio de Paz. “This culture must be confronted.”
A military court judge ordered on Wednesday that nine of 10 soldiers arrested in the death of dos Santos Rosa remain behind bars while the case is investigated.
The military initially said soldiers had responded to gunfire, but police said no weapons were found in the car. On Monday, the military said the soldiers mistook the driver’s car for that of criminals.
In a statement Wednesday, the military lamented the loss of life and said the case would be properly investigated.
Last year, then President Michel Temer decreed a federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro that put the army in charge of security. However, that ended Dec. 31, so soldiers would not legally have been able to conduct patrols.
Soldiers were conducting “an operation that may have been irregular,” said Joao Tancredo, a lawyer for the family. “If there were irregularities, the case should not be tried in military courts.”
Brazil has the dubious distinction of world leader in total homicides, and major cities like Rio de Janeiro often suffer shootouts between traffickers, militias and police.
Police in Rio de Janeiro state have long been accused of extrajudicial killings. In 2018, police officers killed 1,534 people in the state, according to government data.