Symmetry lurks behind coincidence especially in conspiracies. In the UK the police are being investigated for their role in the tragedy at the Hillsborough football ground that occurred 25 years ago. 96 football fans lost their lives because police forced spectators outside the ground into an overcrowded section inside the stadium. In Brazil, 20 years after the police killed 100 inmates inside Carandiru prison, sentences have been given to the policemen that took part in the massacre.
This week 15 policemen have each received prison sentences of 48 years. The sentences are substantial but they are subject to appeal. Colonel Ubiratan Guimaraes, who led the assault on the prison, was convicted in 2001. He was subsequently acquitted on appeal. The defence lawyers argue that the policemen shot in self-defence. There was a prison riot. But in the movie the prisoners surrendered before the slaughter took place, and the movie is based on what the survivors say. Not all the survivors were impartial but there is enough evidence from accounts of witnesses to convince juries. Appeals can hear superior evidence but sometimes they actually hear less because of technicalities, especially if the accused are establishment figures represented by expensive lawyers.
30 years is the most a prisoner can serve. The sentence of 43 years for each policeman is symbolic and perhaps a warning to the appeal court but, if it is, it cannot be regarded as an omen of success. Colonel Ubiratan Guimaraes was sentenced to 632 years. After his appeal, he lives as a free man. There is hope for ‘know nothing’ Rebekah Brookes.
59 prisoners were killed in Brazilian prison fights in 2013. Existence in a Brazilian prison is brutal but the regime is liberal. Prisons have open days when prisoners are allowed to have their wives visit them. Sex is permitted. Prisoners can have days out as a reward for good behaviour. The brutality is economic. Lack of investment means serious overcrowding. Brazilian prisons are difficult to live in and impossible to police. Carandiru was built to house 4000 prisoners. When the riot took place at Carandiru the prison housed 8000 prisoners. The rioting began in the prison and 9 of the prison victims were killed by other prisoners. Intervention was needed.
But numbers haunt the tragedy. There are the long prison sentences, 73 policemen convicted in total, the number of years taken to secure convictions, the number of prisoners killed by the police, 102 and the time it took, 30 minutes. The police went into the cells and killed prisoners who were hiding and had surrendered. This is what moviemakers, juries and judges believe. The police killed 102 prisoners because they could and because they wanted to send a warning to other prison populations. Except it was not simply expedient logic. Or at least that it was what you feel watching the movie. The policemen lost their heads because the sight of overcrowded and troublesome prisoners evoked disgust and contempt. And where have we heard that before?
Here is the trailer for the film Carandiru:
If you want to read more about Brazil click here.