armed and dangerous

On the night of 31 March 2005 a group of men, some masked and hooded, drove through Rio de Janeiro's Baixada Fluminense district. They fired at random as they went, sometimes stopping and getting out of their cars to execute victims at close range. Fourteen-year-old schoolboy Douglas Brasil de Paula was playing pinball when he was shot dead; Elizabeth Soares de Oliveira was killed while she worked in her husband's bar; João da Costa Magalhães was sitting on the doorstep of his house when the gunmen fired on him; Rafael da Silva Couto, a 17-year-old, was gunned down as he cycled along the Via Dutra.

By 11pm 29 people lay dead. Ten police officers and one former police officer have been implicated in the murders, in what appears to be the result of a violent turf war. "The Baixada," explained a police colonel to the Brazilian newspaper O Dia, "has medieval qualities. The local aristocracy wants to wall off its enclaves, using the police as its exclusive protection force."

This was the worst massacre in Rio de Janeiro’s history, but it was not a new or isolated phenomenon. For the millions of Brazilians who live in favelas (shanty towns), violence is an inescapable part of daily life.

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