Brazil's murder rate rose to new heights in 2017

The funeral of Vitor Gabriel, 3, at a cemetery in São João de Meriti in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2017. A stray bullet killed him while he was watching television at home.
The funeral of Vitor Gabriel, 3, at a cemetery in São João de Meriti in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2017. A stray bullet killed him while he was watching television at home.PHOTO: NYTIMES

SÃO PAULO (NYTIMES) - Brazil has beat its own macabre record for homicides: 63,880 people were murdered across the country in 2017, up 3 per cent from the year before, according to a new study.

That's 175 deaths per day.

Data from the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, a research organisation, shows the murder rate in the country was 30.8 per 100,000 people, up from 29.9 in 2016. For the sake of comparison, the United States had five homicides per 100,000 people in 2015 - the most recent year for which data are available - down from eight per 100,000 in 1996. Even Mexico, which is also suffering from a soaring murder rate, had less homicides per capita with 25 per 100,000 last year.

Organised crime is one of the driving factors behind the rise.

Brazil's murder rate has soared as rival drug gangs battle for territory in a country that shares borders with the three biggest cocaine-producing countries in the world - Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

Not surprisingly, two of the states with the highest murder rates, Acre and Ceará, are thoroughfares along the main smuggling routes.

At the same time, budgets for public security have been slashed amid the deepest recession the country has seen, leaving law enforcement underpaid and underprepared to deal with the mounting violence. Hampered by limited resources, the police are responding by ratcheting up their brutality.

The vast majority of victims are young, black, male and poor, and often live in the favelas, or slums, where gang warfare has been most pronounced, said Renato Sérgio de Lima, director of the Brazilian Forum of Public Security.

Most of the homicides occurred in urban centres, particularly in the impoverished north and northeast of the country.

Rio Grande do Norte, in northeastern Brazil, has the dubious honor of being the state with the highest murder rate: 63.9 per 100,000.

Many of the victims - 5,144 - were killed by police officers. That's an average of 14 people killed by the police each day, a number that went up by 20 per cent over the previous year.