Brazil’s hard-right President Jair Bolsonaro sparked outrage on Monday after saying that criminals were “going to die in the streets like cockroaches” if he succeeded in passing a measure aimed at blocking the prosecution of police officers and civilians who kill suspects.
According to The Guardian, which cited an interview Bolsonaro gave to local media, the Brazilian leader said “that’s how it should be,” asserting that his proposal would both provide police with “legal cover” to fight crime and protect “upstanding citizens” looking to defend themselves.
A tough-on-crime vow last year helped Bolsonaro win the presidency of Brazil, a nation plagued by gangs blamed for a string of mass-murder prison riots. No country has suffered more homicides in recent years and only two nations — the United States and China — have more people behind bars. Brazil had 65,602 murders in 2017, according to official data.
He came into office with a record of inflammatory statements. During the campaign, he suggested that “you cannot treat (criminals) as if they were normal human beings, ok?” and said police should be given a freer hand to kill them: “If he kills 10, 15 or 20 with 10 or 30 bullets each, he needs to get a medal and not be prosecuted.”
That hardline message has broad appeal in a country where, according to the independent Brazilian Public Security Forum, 63,880 people were killed in 2017.
On Sunday, Bolsonaro argued for his signature policy of relaxing gun control measures, saying they will not stop mass shootings such as those that left 29 dead in the US over the weekend.
In 2018, Brazilian police killed almost 6,200 people, an increase of nearly 1,000 over the previous year.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has eagerly embraced Bolsonaro, who has found common ground with the prime minister’s right-wing government. His outspoken support for Israel has also played well to his evangelical base.
Netanyahu traveled to Brazil earlier in the year for Bolsonaro’s inauguration and the Brazilian leader then came to Israel in a high-profile visit just days before Israel’s elections, in a move many said was designed to bolster Netanyahu’s election showing.