A bloody, multi-hour shooting in a poor Rio de Janeiro neighborhood echoed Friday, with authorities saying the police mission successfully killed two dozen criminals, while residents and activists denounced human rights abuses.
It was shortly after dawn on Thursday that dozens of Rio de Janeiro state civil police officers stormed Jacarezinho, a working-class favela in the northern part of the city. They were targeting drug traffickers from one of Brazil’s most notorious criminal organizations, Comando Vermelho, and the bodies quickly piled up.
When the fighting stopped, there were 25 dead, one police officer and 24 people described by the police as “criminals”.
Rio’s nickname “Wonderful City” can often seem like a cruel irony in the favelas, given their extreme poverty, violent crime and subjugation by drug traffickers or militias. But even here, Thursday’s crash was a jarring anomaly that analysts declared one of the deadliest police operations in the city.
The bloodshed also exposed Brazil’s eternal division over whether, as a common local saying goes, “a good criminal is a dead criminal.” Fervent sentiment for law and order fueled the successful 2018 presidential career of Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain whose home is in Rio. He won the support of much of society with his calls to reduce legal restrictions on the use of deadly force by officers against criminals.
The administration of Rio state governor Cláudio Castro, an ally of Bolsonaro, said in an emailed statement that it regretted the deaths, but that the operation was “guided by long and detailed investigative and intelligence work that took months. “.
The raid was aimed at stopping the gang’s recruitment of teenagers, police said in a previous statement, which also cited Comando Vermelho’s “warlike structure of soldiers equipped with rifles, grenades and bulletproof vests”.
Television footage showed a police helicopter flying low over the Jacarezinho favela as men with high-powered rifles leapt from ceiling to ceiling to evade officers.
Others did not escape.
A resident told The Associated Press how a man broke into his humble home around 8 a.m. bleeding from a gunshot wound. He hid in his daughter’s room, but the police came running in after him.
She said she and her family saw officers shoot the unarmed man.
Hours later, her blood was still pooled on her tile floor and soaked in a blanket decorated with hearts.
About 50 Jacarezinho residents emerged into a narrow street to follow members of the state legislature’s human rights commission who conducted an inspection after the shootings. They yelled “Justice!” while clapping. Some raised their right fists in the air.
Felipe Curi, a detective with the Rio civil police, denied that there had been any executions.
“There were no suspects killed. They were all traffickers or criminals who tried to take the lives of our police officers and there was no other alternative, “he said at a press conference.
Curi said that some suspects had sought refuge in the homes of residents and six of them were arrested. Police also confiscated 16 pistols, six rifles, a submachine gun, 12 grenades and a shotgun, he said.
Bolsonaro’s son Carlos, a Rio city councilor who is influential on social media, supported the police. He expressed his condolences to the family of the fallen officer on Twitter, while skipping any mention of the other 24 dead or their families. The president did not address the incident throughout Thursday night in his weekly live feed on Facebook.
Bolsonaro’s political rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that any operation that results in two dozen deaths does not qualify as public safety.
“That is the absence of the government offering education and employment, the cause of a great deal of violence,” said da Silva, who is expected to challenge Bolsonaro’s re-election bid next year.
Brazilian divisions of international advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged prosecutors to fully investigate the operation.
“Even if the victims were suspected of criminal association, which has not been proven, summary executions of this type are totally unjustifiable,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty in Brazil.
The Rio state prosecutor’s office said in a statement to the daily Folha de S.Paulo that it would investigate the allegations of violence, adding that the case required an independent investigation by the police.
Brazil’s Supreme Court issued a ruling last year prohibiting police operations in Rio’s favelas during the pandemic unless it is “absolutely exceptional.”
The warrant came after police fatally shot a 14-year-old in a house where there was no evidence of illegal activity. The teenager’s death sparked a Brazilian repeat of the Black Lives Matter protests that raged in the city’s metropolitan area for weeks.
The ruling, which remains in force, caused a drop in police operations in the middle of last year, reflected in the drop in the number of shootings reported by Crossfire, a non-governmental group that monitors violence, and in official state data on deaths. resulting from police intervention. But both indicators have risen back to pre-pandemic levels.
The Cándido Mendes University Public Safety Observatory said Rio police killed an average of more than five people a day during the first quarter of 2021, the deadliest start to a year since the state government began publishing regularly. such data more than two decades ago.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism