The ‘sausage car’ and other mass killings on wheels that wipe out the periphery and the government ignores

Country/area: Brazil

Organisation: The Intercept Brasil

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 26 Oct 2020

Credit: Cecilia Olliveira, Gabrielli Thomaz, Mayara Mangifeste, Carlos Nhanga

Project description:

In Rio de Janeiro the press always reports that “occupants of a car shot” at a target and made victims – treated as “isolated case”. For the first time these cases were tabulated throughout the year, a “social cleansing” standard was established, which takes place in areas that are being disputed by traffickers and militiamen.

The story was told through a slaughter that took place on the west side of Rio, in a dispute between militia and trafficking, on a video. In 2 years there were 91 attacks, which left 128 dead and 115 injured.

Impact reached:

The story of the video was told through a massacre that took place in the west of Rio, in a dispute between militia and trafficking. At a bar party, 4 people were killed and 13 injured when people fired from a car. The target was a militiaman. We talked to a boy who was a regular at the place and who was shot but survived.

It was the first time that these crimes were reported as serial cases, by the Fogo Cruzado platform, which accounted for shootings in Rio. The police were asked about the progress of the investigations of 91 attacks and did not respond to us.

We asked the prosecutor if there is any specific investigation into this type of crime and they said no.

Despite the example being from Rio, we found that this model of “slaughter under wheels” happens in several states of the country and that people know them with names like “ghost biker” and “silver car”. 

It is a common tactic that criminals use this tactic to “clean an area” and “send messages” to residents: whoever does not obey, dies.

Most of the mapped crimes occurred in the Baixada Fluminense, the region where Rio’s death squads were born decades ago. And through the way the attack is carried out – car color / model and virulence – it is possible to know who attacked.

As this is a subject of popular knowledge, but not accounted for by the authorities and unknown to the population who lives far from the peripheries, we chose to present the subject – dense and violent – in the form of a video explainer, to facilitate understanding, but without being too hard. And worked. The video went viral on the internet and the subject was popularized.

Techniques/technologies used:

As the subject is very violent and happens in areas that do not arouse the interest of many people, as they are poor and marginalized regions, we chose to present the subject in a video with motion, to try to soften the theme and generate empathy at the same time.

The narration is made by one of the authors of the story, who is presenting data of the dead and wounded on a map, merging with clippings of real militia action videos, audio of victims and also a clip of a shooting attack that ended in a massacre.

The data were collected in the Fogo Cruzado API and analyzed in detail for “reason of the action”, which allowed us to detect the attacks on shots. In a spreedsheet, we analyzed the number of victims and locations, and then identified who, at that date, was the armed group that dominated the regions.

We exported the raw database to a map, to identify where the crimes took place, which allowed us to see that they are mostly concentrated in the Baixada Fluminense, where the majority of the population is black and poor. We also listed in the press all the news about these attacks in these two years, to have access to all the details of the stories and better meet the standards.

To illustrate the story, we mixed real videos with animation, to soften the violence of the theme.

What was the hardest part of this project?

One of the most difficult parts of that investigation was finding a victim of the attack at the bar party, who agreed to talk. The fear of those who live in these areas is great.

After a while, we found it. But he was afraid and of course, he didn’t want to identify himself. After working in trust with the source, he talked and we agreed with him to voice his voice to protect him.

The other steps of the investigation were laborious, since they were data and research from 2-year, but common to journalistic work. We had a lot of crimes to map, see which ones were more expressive of the armed violence that affects Rio de Janeiro and work on a popular way of telling the story to generate empathy. We use popular language, with slang and everyday expressions – But at the same time bringing tragic data and sensitive images, showing that this is the daily life of many people in one of the largest cities in Brazil. 

We also show that despite being numerous, there is no investigation into the cases, that occurs where the majority of the population is black and poor. And more: those responsible for investigating or predicting crimes often do not even answer questions. Through the narrative of the video, we show that for the Rio government, black lives do not matter.

What can others learn from this project?

The history of the “sausage car” has been common and commonplace in Rio de Janeiro for many years. But these data needed to be compiled and show that they are not eventualities. It’s method.

For this, we use the Fogo Cruzado database, a platform that maps shootings in Rio de Janeiro, with geolocation. The data itself, raw, was already shocking. But as violence in Rio de Janeiro is a common issue, depending on the approach taken, it becomes just one more number.

To make a difference you need to humanize the numbers, give them a face and history, show that despite the fact that those crimes took place a little far from your home, it happens in your city and affects the lives of your neighbors or coworkers – people who you can know.

Thus, it is possible to make people empathize in matters that usually they would not be interested in. Faced with a repetitive scenario of violence, it is necessary to reinvent journalism, invest in new forms of approach and seek new sources of information – in addition to government databases.

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