The phone-based service enabling citizens to monitor state violence and access justice

Brazil / Freedom for Justice / 6 mar 2018

At least 4,224 people were killed by police officers in Brazil in 2016. While some police killings result from legitimate use of force, others are extrajudicial executions. The numbers are increasing, with roughly 26% more people killed by police in 2016 compared to 2015. This has fuelled cycles of violence and poisoned the public’s relationship with the police. Police officers become targets for reprisals - 437 police officers were killed in 2016, the majority while off duty. In Rio de Janeiro, one fifth of all homicides last year were police killings. Three quarters of those killed by police were black men. The Rio police report nearly all such killings as legitimate acts of self-defence in response to attacks by suspected criminals. However, in reality, extrajudicial killings are common: police kill unarmed men, men who are fleeing and men who have already been detained.

Nossas is drawing attention to this tragedy in Rio, and giving citizens the power to collect evidence and speak out about police brutality. Their project, DefeZap allows users to send anonymous videos of state violence to a team of professionals who can forward the cases onto state control bodies. The DefeZap team monitors the progress of the complaints, preserving the secrecy of the complainants' communications, and keeping them informed about the progress of the cases. Through the simple tools of WhatsApp and Defezap.org, citizens are able to collect evidence and report on cases of state violence instantly using the phones they carry in their hands every day. The incredible civic network that Nossas has created in Rio, is allowing formerly politically disillusioned youth to participate in social activism and politics. Their social network also disperses easy to understand information, such as: “Tutorial on how to film approaches in safety” and "Translating rights from "legal" to Portuguese”.

In February 2016, DefeZap received a video showing the police tossing the body of a young man into the back of a pick up truck. The man in the video was Igor Silva, just 19, killed by police in Maré, Rio. The video indicated that the police had failed to call emergency medical services and had moved his body, tampering with potential evidence. It directly refuted the story provided by the police—that Silva had died while being taken to the hospital after being wounded in a shootout. Nossas forwarded the video to the public prosecutor in hopes that the office would investigate the case. Once an inquiry was opened, they also forwarded the video to a number of national and international media outlets that reported on the case so they could correct their previously published stories. This helped to reverse the mainstream media narrative that all civilians killed by police are dangerous armed traffickers who deserved to die.

In a year and a half of operation, DefeZap has already received more than 4,400 messages, with more than 300 instances of state violence, generating 139 official investigation and control procedures, which are in progress. Three have already had positive results in securing justice. Guilherme Pimentel, a coordinator at DefeZap says appalling videos of police violence and wrongdoing are often shared on social media, provoking outrage, but without consequence. Through DefeZap, he aims to ensure access to justice for all the people of Rio.

Nossas was the winner of the Achmed Dean Sesay Memorial Prize for Innovation in the Grassroots Justice Prize.