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Brazil: War Breaks Out Between Police And Sao Paulo's Biggest Gang

Article illustrative image Partner logo Nights are busy for São Paulo's ambulances

TABOÃO DA SERRA - It was Tuesday, 2 a.m., and D. was lying on her sofa, trying to get some sleep. Bang...Bang...Bang. “It sounded like somebody was shooting inside here,” she recalled.

D. crouched, waited for the shots to stop, and left home to check the street. She opened the front door and, three meters away, lay her friend Fernando Pereira de Melo, 23, eyes wide open: the spear-shaped spiky edge of his home’s front gate sticking through his throat.

“Fernandooooooo..." Her scream froze the late night. Her friend took a glance at her one last time, moaned and died.

The self-employed Melo was born and raised in this same neighborhood of Taboão da Serra, a town in São Paulo’s suburbs. He was known for his friendliness. "If he ran into me ten times, he would greet me ten times”, a neighbor says. His grandmother lives on the same street where he died -- all the neighbors are sure he was not involved in any kind of criminal activity.

His death is just one of several cases to hit the towns surrounding to São Paulo ever since a police officer was killed last week nearby. There are strong rumors that there is a war between the police and a criminal organization called “PCC”, the largest in São Paulo state.

The state has put an extra 15,000 officers on the streets, beyond the regular 30,000. The government denies there is a war. “We are just responding to the peaks of criminality”, says police chief Roberval França. However, other individual officers told Folha anonymously that there is a list of 48 officers on a PCC hit list.

No witnesses

The crimes show signals of revenge. Officer Hélio Miguel de Barros, 36, died after being shot 15 times at around 9:50 P.M. on Tuesday, his day off, also in Taboão da Serra. Other crimes have occurred in the coastal towns of Santos and Guarujá, about one hour from São Paulo.

Luckier than Melo were his two friends, who managed to escape from the attack. One of them was shot five times, but was able to run away and is now in the hospital, but expected to survive. The other friend hid under a car. Nobody, however, saw what happened.

When Melo tried to jump over D.’s gate, he was shot on the back, hip and elbow, falling onto the spiky edge. His mother, who lives nearby, found his body hanging on the gate. She tried to take him off, but the police officers kept her away. “Murderers! You killed my son,” she screamed until she fainted.

D. and his friends were told by the cops not to leave home after 10 p.m. Other young men got the same warning in other places where crimes have occurred. One location to be avoided was in front of a school in Jardim Clementino, in Taboão da Serra, where three men and one woman were shot — two of them died.

In a small circle, the teenage daughter of Camila Grossi Monteiro, 30, who was shot in the neck, shoulder and arm, was talking to her school friends when Folha’s car approached.

A girl ran away, in fear. Later, after calming down a bit, she came back to talk. "Now we have to stay at home, like in prison," she said. "Is this justice?” 

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Founded in 1921, the "Sao Paulo Gazzette" became Brazil's leading daily in the 1980s by applying standards of openness and objectivity to its coverage of the country and Latin America as a whole.

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