I have a friend with more testosterone than sense. He and a college buddy found themselves on the Mexican border during Spring Break several years ago with some spending money and a little time. They were young, bulletproof, and immortal, so they figured they’d wander over and spend the day exploring Juarez on foot.
These two pale gringos were having a simply grand time taking in the sights. However, in short order, they got lost. These were the days before ubiquitous GPS-equipped cell phones, so they really were on their own. Soon they found themselves in a bad neighborhood with the locals looking at them all hungry-like.
Just when things seemed bleakest these two stupid American college kids happened upon a pair of uniformed Mexican police officers and innocently attempted to ask directions. In response, the two Mexican cops drew their weapons and robbed the young men of all their accumulated possessions.
You didn’t need a passport to travel to Mexico back then, so they did eventually get back over the border. However, they lost their wallets, watches, and everything else of value they had on their persons. This was their rude introduction to the realities of police corruption in a Third-World country.
It is in vogue to denigrate and even assault the police in America these days. Quite a few politicians have built successful careers around the practice. However, we have no idea what truly bad police really look like. In America, if you get in trouble with precious few exceptions you can call 911 and some selfless guardian with a gun will show up to help you out. The rare exceptions get all the press, but when the zombies start staggering up the cul-de-sac even the most ardent police-bashing anarchist will eventually pick up the phone.
Today’s sordid episode gives us a glimpse into the dark realities of life in the favelas, the sprawling lawless slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In these strange spaces, drug cartel foot soldiers openly packing automatic weapons patrol the streets around police stations. The militarized police force conducts massive armed operations, but shadow organizations of current and former cops engage in extra-judicial killings at the behest of powerful figures both inside and outside of government. It is suspected that this corruption infects the Brazilian government at all levels.
Marielle Franco was born in the summer of 1979 in Mare, a slum area in Northern Rio de Janeiro. She began working to help support her family at age eleven. She had a daughter at age 19 and raised the child as a single mother. Franco was openly bisexual and lived with her partner Monica Benicio from 2017 until her death.
Franco held a Master’s degree in public administration and was an avowed socialist. Her resume included qualifications as a sociologist, feminist, and human rights activist. In 2016 she won a seat on the Rio de Janeiro city council. She used her political pulpit to speak out vociferously against police corruption. This made her some very dangerous enemies.
Crime in urbanized Brazil is so extensive as to be difficult for the civilized mind to comprehend. Many to most of the refugees flowing toward our southern border are fleeing such sordid stuff as this. In the face of well-funded and ruthless gangs driven by drugs, murder, and rampant unfettered lawlessness, many police organizations exceed their official mandate. It’s like a bad movie.
Even if they originally meant well, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the favelas of Rio, that means shadowy milicias comprised of trained law enforcement officers who undertake extrajudicial killings without due process. While many times this means dead bad guys, it also results in substantial collateral damage as well. In darker spaces, it also means that political activists are targeted for termination based upon their cultural and social influence.
On March 13, 2018, Marielle Franco posted this to Twitter, “Another homicide of a young man that could be credited to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many others will have to die for this war to end?”
The following day Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes were returning home from a round table discussion titled, “Young Black Women Moving (Power) Structures.” This event promoted the empowerment of black women in impoverished Brazil. Ms. Franco’s press officer was also in the back seat. From out of the traffic a Chevy Cobalt pulled stealthily up alongside.
The passenger in the Cobalt then produced an HK MP5 submachine gun and fired a total of nine rounds in controlled bursts. Four bullets hit Franco—three in the head and one in the neck. She died on the scene. Her driver was struck by three rounds and was also killed. Her press secretary was injured but survived.
Movies would have us believe that highly-trained hitmen accepting contracts from anonymous clients online have raised assassination for money to an art form. Reality is typically far removed from this stylized image. In many places, criminals will kill in exchange for drugs or even the right to pilfer the pockets of the deceased. In the case of Marielle Franco, however, this job truly was professionally executed.
The kill zone was a city street amply covered with surveillance cameras. However, somebody with the skill and access to do so had deactivated the cameras covering the area at the precise moment of the hit. The cartridge cases recovered at the scene were traced to a shipment sent to Brasilia’s federal police force in 2006. Police officials initially alleged that the shipment had been stolen from a local post office though they later retracted this claim.
The HK MP5 submachine gun incorporates a fluted chamber to smooth extraction and enhance reliability. As a result, fired cases from an MP5, or any roller-locked HK firearms for that matter, demonstrate distinctive longitudinal lines. No other military weapon in common use marks its empties in this manner. This identified the murder gun as a fairly rarefied piece of iron.
The HK MP5 traces its roots all the way back to the Second World War and the German MG42 belt-fed machinegun. The previous MG34 had revolutionized Infantry combat. For the first time maneuver elements were afforded truly man-portable, rifle-caliber, belt-fed firepower mobile enough to keep pace during an Infantry assault. However, the MG34 was meticulously machined with tight tolerances. This made the gun heavy, expensive, and finicky.
The MG42, by contrast, was formed predominantly out of stamped steel pressings that could be churned out cheaply by semi-skilled workers. The beating heart of the MG42 was its roller-locked, delayed-blowback action. This system utilized a pair of roller bearings that cammed into recesses milled into the breech face. The end result was cheap, rugged, and reliable.
In the closing days of WW2, the Germans adapted this system to drive a prototype assault rifle. The StG 45 was an evolutionary development of the StG 44 and used the roller-locked system to fire the 7.92x33mm Kurz intermediate cartridge. Allied forces overran the arms factories where these guns were being developed, but the design was subsequently taken to Spain.
This effort resulted in the Spanish CETME rifle that eventually morphed into the German HK G3. This same action was rechambered for the 5.56mm, the 7.62x39mm, and, in 1964, the 9mm pistol cartridge. This pistol caliber SMG was originally designated the HK54. It eventually became known as the MP5.
The MP5 was first issued to German border police in 1966. It has since been produced under license around the world in more than 100 different variations and remains in series production today. Though its 800 rpm rate of fire is a bit spunky for my tastes, the MP5 remains one of the smoothest submachineguns ever produced. The takedown of the Iranian embassy in London on May 5, 1980, by the British SAS wielding HK MP5 SMGs on international television, sold untold thousands of the guns to military and LE users around the globe.
Brazilian police investigated Ronald Paulo Alves Pereira and Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega in connection with the killings. Both men had been honored by Jair Bolsonaro, the current President of Brazil, for their police service in the early 2000s. Nóbrega purportedly headed one of these extrajudicial paramilitary groups active in Brazil called “The Crime Bureau.” He was shot to death after supposedly firing upon police who came to arrest him in northeastern Bahia state. Whatever secrets he held went with him to the grave.
Brazilian police also arrested Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz roughly a year after the shooting. Lessa was purportedly the triggerman, while de Queiroz was alleged to have driven the Cobalt. Both men were former members of the military police. One was also a previous neighbor of current Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in a gated luxury apartment complex in Rio. Both Lessa and de Queiroz denied involvement.
I read quite a lot about this sordid situation pulling this article together and still don’t even begin to understand it. Allegations of corruption run all the way up to the Presidency. Various players served together in either the military or elite Law Enforcement units and seem connected in ways that are impossible to untangle. However, the take-home point is that today’s American institutional Law Enforcement challenges pale in the face of true corruption.
I was a 35-year-old medical student with a wife, three kids and zero resources. We were so poor we got reverse taxes. We actually looked forward to April 15th every year — not so much anymore.
Thanks to my amazing wife, some generous parents and God’s Divine Providence, we still had a warm, safe, nurturing home despite our rather remarkable dearth of material goods. Were I being completely honest, this was arguably the best time of my life. We got Domino’s pizza every 6 to 8 weeks, and it was indeed an epic event. Such relative rarity makes the sweet things taste all the sweeter. At one point, however, we found ourselves in need of a vacation. Our humble circumstances mandated something cheap.
My bride figured it out. We would catch the Amtrak in Jackson, Mississippi, and do a long weekend in New Orleans. The train ride down would be fun for the kids, and we found inexpensive accommodations. As Amtrak is federally subsidized, the fares were reasonable, even for all five of us. New Orleans has a great zoo, the National WWII Museum, and lots of good food. It was shaping up to be a memorable family adventure.
The train ride was indeed a blast. We pulled over onto a siding to make way for a passing freight and spotted an alligator. By the time we rolled into New Orleans, we were ready to explore.
America’s train stations were, in general, built many decades ago and sited in the most vibrant parts of town. Now, more than half a century later, what used to be thriving is often no longer. The train station in New Orleans looked like something out of Mogadishu.
We were all young, fit and naïve. I couldn’t afford a taxi, so we resolved to just walk all the way across the city to our modest hotel. With our luggage on my back and three kids in tow, the Dabbs family struck out on foot to experience the Big Easy in August.
New Orleans in summer is Africa hot. It is also covered in a thin patina of homeless people. However, I worked in an inner-city hospital and appreciated that most of these folks, though they might look a bit intimidating, were actually pretty harmless. Regardless, I am armed whenever I am not asleep or in the shower, so I wasn’t unduly concerned about our safety.
My six-year-old son clung dutifully to my right hand as we made our way through the squatters’ camps and detritus of squalid urban living. Considering this was a fairly unfamiliar world to my kids, they just soaked it in. Then my son asked me innocently, “Dad, what’s wrong with that man?”
I followed his tiny index finger to the object of his curiosity. This guy sat motionless on the sidewalk, his back leaning against an abandoned store front. His clothes were tattered, and an empty wine bottle stood on the concrete beside him. Despite the blistering heat he reclined backwards in brilliant direct unfiltered sunlight. As I looked more closely I could see flies crawling in and out of his nose.
“Well, son,” I said. “That man is dead.”
My man-child was instantly mesmerized. He had never before seen a dead man and was now overcome with curiosity. I found myself in a bit of spot.
We couldn’t afford a cell phone. I had no idea what the protocol was if you encounter a dead wino on the streets of New Orleans. It seemed somehow uncharitable to just leave him there. As I began searching about for somebody who might have a phone or a business that might yet still have a landline, a squad car pulled leisurely up to the scene. A big cop stepped out, walked up to the dead guy and softly kicked him in the foot with his boot. Predictably, the corpse did not respond.
“Yep, call the meat wagon,” the cop shouted over his shoulder to his partner in the car. “This one’s done.”
My son took one long, last, fascinated look, and we headed on our way. Now some two decades later my children don’t remember the New Orleans zoo, the WWII Museum or the food. However, from now until the sun burns out they will never forget finding that dead guy. Kids are like that. His was the Big Chill in the Big Easy.