Citizen TV crew’s brush with dreaded Rio Military Police
Insecurity at the Olympics has been a big talking point and the statistics generated out of Brazil before the Games were no better as the Forbes website in January called this South American nation the murder capital of the world.
This is because there are more killings across its cities than any other nation in the globe.
The same report however highlighted some positives for those attending the 2016 Olympics because Brazil’s most violent cities are mainly in the north, far from the commercial capital of Rio.
I have received a lot of concerned messages from Nairobi especially when it was reported that US swimmer and six-time gold medallist Ryan Lochte and US teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen were held at gunpoint early Sunday morning, as confirmed by the United States Olympic Committee and reported by The New York Times.
According to AIPS media the athletes are said to have been coming back from an event held at House France in the high-end Lagoa neighbourhood of central Rio.
To be quite honest, we have been here for more than two weeks and my colleagues and I are yet to witness any kind of criminal activity.
But there was this day when we found ourselves at the mercy of the feared military police force.
We had just come from watching Paul Tanui bag a silver medal in the men 10,000m final.
Since it was late in the evening we decided to pass by a McDonald’s fast food restaurant to grab the proverbial midnight snack before heading home.
We flagged a yellow cab outside the restaurant immediately after and began our 40-minute ride home.
Our taxi driver, whose name I cannot quite remember, decided to use a new route to take us home.
I was not quite sure why he chose that route but it later occurred to me that his was a bit shorter than the usual one. But shortcuts usually land people in trouble and we soon found ourselves in a dangerous part of town.
The taxi driver kept pointing around and muttering “dangerous, dangerous, dangerous,” heightening the tension inside the vehicle.
At that point I found myself taking a keen interest in my surroundings and noted we were in a place I could only describe as similar to the ghettos that are often highlighted in American hip hop music videos.
There were a lot of scantily dressed women walking around with their children and I kept wondering where they were coming from and where they were headed to at this ungodly hour.
A few meters ahead we chanced upon an accident. A motorcycle rider has fallen and was groaning in pain while clutching his leg. There was broken glass around his motorbike.
Some cars had stopped and I wondered whether one of them was responsible for his predicament.
At this point our cab driver slowed down and I thought we should stop to go and help the young man but almost as if fearing for our safety he accelerated and sped away.
By now I was eager to see us get out of this God forsaken neighbourhood to more familiar ground.
Up ahead I could make out police sirens at a roadblock and I breathed a sigh of relief thinking to myself that we must be safe.
We pulled up to the roadblock and as several cars ahead of us were weaved through we were told to pull over.
Our driver duly obliged, parked the car to the right of the road and got out to go talk to the police.
They chattered in Portuguese for about a minute and then walked over to us. We were then all told to get out of the car in what was now becoming a rather serious incident.
I got out of the co-drivers seat and walked over to one of the officers but before I could get close to him, he gestured to me to lift up my sweatshirt while brandishing a pistol in the other hand.
I obliged as it occurred to me that the police suspected we were gangsters probably working in cahoots with the cab driver to carry out heinous crimes.
All focus now turned to Brian my cameraman as one of the police officers began to ask him a lot of questions in Portuguese.
In another life Brian would have been a professional bodybuilder and with his overgrown beard and cap turned to the back, I was sure law enforcement thought he was one of the local thugs.
He asked Brian for his passport. Unfortunately we do not walk around with our passports for fear of being robbed.
We tried to show him our media accreditation, our HD camera, our tripod but he did not budge. He wanted to see Brian’s passport and he wanted to see it now!!!
My colleagues and I started laughing nervously because we had no idea what to do.
Meanwhile, the policeman kept talking to the taxi driver and we had no idea what their conversation was about.
He then shouted an instruction at the cab driver and soon the car’s trunk popped open.
The officer gestured towards the trunk and we craned our heads to look inside, half expecting to see it filled with guns, explosives, bullets and dead bodies.
The sight that stared at us however was an empty boot with some paper bags obviously containing oils for the car.
By now we had asked the policeman for permission to leave at least twice and he had declined but this time he nodded his head slightly.
We quickly jumped into our car and sped off, glad that we would not spend a night in a notorious Brazilian jail that have a reputation of rough house treatment and violence among prisoners.
At that moment I missed Kenyan police who are usually not the most courteous but at least one can communicate with them in a familiar language.
All I can say is that in police in Rio must have thick skins to deal with ruthless criminals that roam its streets.
Following the harrowing experience, we have resorted to wearing Kenyan branded attire and returning home as quickly as possible to avoid running into the dreaded military police again.
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