According to Amnesty International, roughly 2,000 people are killed every year by the Brazilian police, in manner that resembles a planned execution. But the police shootings in most of Rio’s favelas are so common that they barely register outside the favelas. The residents of those slums affirm that the media doesn’t care what happens there. This is why a group of friends from the Complexo do Alemao, one of the largest urban slums in Brazil, located near Rio de Janerio International Ariport, formed a media collective they called Papo Reto, or “straight talk.” No newspaper or television reporters would set foot in Alemão, so they would take it upon themselves to report the news from their favelas. Their intention was to draw attention to the conditions in their favela — the blackouts, the curfews, the suffocating police presence — and to warn residents to avoid particularly volatile areas. Some of Papo Reto’s members were part-time stringers for newspapers in Rio; others were activists armed with little more than their smartphones and tablets.
Today, Papo Reto had become a kind of signal tower for the community. Members of the collective receive videos and photographs of police raids and bullet-riddled vehicles from Alemão’s residents via the smartphone messaging application WhatsApp. Papo Reto disseminates the images through group chats on the same software, or on Facebook and other social media. Thanks to today’s explosion of social media, they can distribute video evidence of the violence in the favelas to a global audience.
Currently, the International Criminal Court, is conducting investigations in several regions where citizen-produced video evidence could be crucial. This is why the collective’s posts caught the attention of Priscila Neri, a 35-year-old filmmaker, activist and program manager at Witness, a human rights organization based in Brooklyn, that helps train and support amateur journalists around the world. From Witness’ point of view, “citizen journalists” have become a vital source of international news. They believed that the footage shot by local residents in the world’s most dangerous places could be used not just to draw attention to acts of violence but also to put the responsible parties in prison.