Ever since I started writing about Rio de Janeiro, this is one of the most common questions I'd get from prospective visitors and expats: "Is Rio a war zone?"
My immediate answer is no, but the real answer is more complicated.
Rio is not a war zone in the sense of Syria or Yemen. And like other major cities in the Americas, much of the violent crime affects the poorest residents. Tourists aren't going to see tanks rolling down the street in Ipanema, and the typical foreign visitor is unlikely to see an exchange of gunfire.
But it's undeniable that armed conflicts in the city's favelas and suburbs between police, drug traffickers, and militias that developed over decades aren't going away.
Stray Bullets and Police Killings
That's become clear in the last few weeks, as five people were killed in 24 hours in one of the city's largest favelas, Complexo do Alemão. The community had suffered through three months straight of shoot-outs every day.
One of the victims was a mother shot by a stray bullet in her own home; her teenage daughter was also injured. Another case was that of a 10-year-old boy shot in the head by a policeman. His parents, who say police also threatened them, packed up and left Rio, returning to their home state of Piauí.
Plus, stray bullet injuries and killings, once a scourge during the 1990s, are ticking up again this year. It's literally a laundry list.
Last week, a 16-year-old girl biking in the West Zone neighborhood of Jacarépagua was killed by a stray bullet, caught in the crossfire between rival drug gangs.
In March, a 63-year-old woman was killed by a stray bullet in Del Castilho, and a 10-year-old flying a kite in the North Zone neighborhood of Engenho da Rainha was seriously injured by a stray bullet.
In February, a girl was shot in the leg on a main street in Copacabana, and three days later, a three-year-old was shot in the spine by a stray bullet in the North Zone.
The Complexo do Alemão killing of the 10-year-old boy, Eduardo Ferreira, shook the city. A military policeman admitted he likely fired the fatal shots, and had a nervous breakdown. Rio's governor later confirmed this "mistake" the police made.
It's another sign that the state's pacification strategy remains to make long-term gains. The governor confessed that he doesn't expect peace in Alemão for at least 10 to 15 years, and that pacification is a "permanent process."
Deaths of children at the hands of police is nothing new in Rio. Between 2003 and 2012, 60 percent of Brazilian police murders of children took place in Rio state. Prior to 2011, forensics weren't even required in cases of killings by police, until the Juan case happened.
Never-ending Turf Battles
In 1999, the documentary Noticías de uma guerra particular, which is sometimes translated as News from a Private War or News from a Personal War, was released. It's an essential watch to understand the dynamics and history of Rio's armed conflict. This is a deeply entrenched conflict, and a government security presence is not enough to resolve it.
Over a decade later, the pacification strategy has yet to find a way to permanently rid the city of organized crime groups, including drug traffickers and militias. Some just get displaced to other areas, or new players pop up.
This is not a band-aid fix that can happen in a year, even if violence is temporarily on hold during the Olympics.
The Good News
Community media, including Voz da Comunidade, Coletivo Papo Reto, Fala Roça, and others are making it impossible to ignore what's happening in the city's favelas. Through live coverage on social media, eyewitness videos and photos, and daily reports from the ground, the government can't hide abuses and is under greater pressure to address community struggles with violence.
Protests following Eduardo's death were covered around the world, and put pressure on the government to sit down with Alemão residents.
Rio's "Olympic legacy" is unlikely to include a permanent security fix. And if you attend the games, you're not likely to have to face this kind of violence. But those who call Rio home will.