Sunday, May 8, 2011

Peace Police

Is there ever any good news from slums? Yes! In Rio’s famed favelas, law enforcement efforts are cleaning out the drug gangs, police officers occasionally take part in the outdoor activities of residents and children play in the streets in what used to be extremely dangerous neighborhoods. It’s been two and a half years since “police pacification units” have been introduced in Rio’s most treacherous slums, including in one almost everyone has heard of, City of God. The aim is to establish these units in 160 communities. And Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff wants to introduce the program to other cities.

Although drug dealing, violence, fear and suspicion have not disappeared from Rio’s favelas, the large police presence has improved conditions there for thousands of residents; more kids are going to school, garbage is being collected, crime has fallen and police officers are offering language and music lessons and even free karate classes.

It will take a long time before Brazil’s slums are normal neighborhoods, but slowly but surely a “force for good” is transforming them into safer places where little by little the inhabitants are learning to trust each other and the police, and to understand drug trafficking and violence are not the only options available to them.

See The New York Times article and video, Taming the City of God, for more on this tremendous effort.