You, you, you, you, you, you, you … the flight of two eagles – that’s what they call police helicopters around here – and the rattle of bullets woke Jacarezinho at dawn. This favela is part of the unglamorous Rio de Janeiro. The one who doesn’t even dream of starting to receive vaccinated tourists. A., 28, did like the whole neighborhood when the police operation broke out last Thursday. Jump out of bed to the most protected corner and hug your daughter. Both gnawed with terror, they waited for the crossfire to end when a wounded guy burst into their house. “He had been shot twice, but he was alive,” she explains. The intruder ordered him to be silent and hid in a room until four policemen rushed in, hooded. “They were coming for him. Then he started begging me. ‘Don’t leave me, don’t go, don’t leave me, they’re going to kill me!’ He wanted to surrender himself to human rights, but the policemen said: “No one here surrenders himself, he is going to be killed! And they stabbed him to death in the room, they didn’t let me help him, ”she recounted on Monday, still anguished. “It was him or my girl,” he murmurs. “They do not come to arrest, they come to kill,” he sentenced. For this reason, he says, they did not wear the name and blood type tag on their bibs.
If someone fleeing from the police bangs on your door for shelter, you open. And period. It is the law that prevails in favelas like this one, where the power of organized crime has filled the void left by the state. And any Jacarezinho neighbor who lifts more than a foot remembers many other shootings and many police operations, but none as bloody and brutal as this one. With 28 dead, the most lethal perpetrated by soldiers in the history of the city. So many victims in one day caused a commotion in Rio, that it is only scared when stray bullets kill children because the violence of the war on drugs is daily.
The president, Jair Bolsonaro, did not miss the opportunity to congratulate the Civil Police, which also seized some thirty weapons. The heavy hand with crime is one of its flags. For the extreme right-wing military man, Rio and the police are great electoral grounds in a country where the idea that the best criminal is the dead criminal is ingrained.
The routine of killing suspects was installed long ago. Since 1998, the police have killed one person every ten hours in the State of Rio de Janeiro, according to O’Globo.
At dawn last Thursday, before six o’clock, about 200 policemen armed for a war advanced through all the entrances to Jacarezinho, a swarm of brick slums an hour by subway and train from Copacabana beach. A policeman who tried to remove one of the barricades set up by traffickers that dominate the neighborhood, the stronghold of the Comando Vermelho, was the first victim. He was shot in the head.
And pandemonium broke out. Intense fire with rifles, bursts from helicopters, grenades and almost 40,000 neighbors turned, once again, into hostages. Crouched in a corner, imploring God and following the news on their mobile or WhatsApp. Joice Pereira, 42, said Tuesday that she hid with her eight children in the bathroom for hours. The safest place in this room with paper walls that overlooks one of the alleys scene of the spectacular shooting.
Many of the scenes from that bloody Thursday look like something out of the movie City of God, a portrait of life in the Rio de Janeiro favelas that triumphed two decades ago. For more than two hours the shooting was tremendous, with suspects fleeing through rooftops and alleys to save the skin and colleagues of the rabid dead agent, invading homes without a warrant. The stores did not open. The coronavirus vaccination point, either.
When a certain calm arrived, the neediest neighbors, the hungry who have nothing to eat because the pandemic took away what little they earned, ventured to collect a hot plate. “I was shocked that in the middle of the operation people were collecting food,” recalls Lucas Louback, 30. The human rights activist from Río de Paz, an NGO from Jacarezinho, participated in the food distribution. After eleven o’clock, “there was no more shooting, but the police were still inside.” After that deceptive hiatus, the shootings returned with fury, as neighborhood mobiles boiled with news that the suspects were surrendering.
Precisely what relatives of some victims told the Ombudsman on Monday, according to the president of the neighborhood association, Leonardo Pimentel, 34, whom in these streets they treat as a mayor. “They said they received videos of the people who died saying ‘I’m alive, I’m going to turn myself in. Look, I’m in a house that I couldn’t get to our house… ‘”.
When the operation ended seven hours after the first death, there were dead people lying in alleys and rooms in various parts of the favela. The photos and videos of the corpses circulating on WhatsApp show several being shot in the head. And one sitting in a chair, with a finger in his mouth. Most of them in swimsuits and flip-flops. The police took the bodies to the hospital, wrapped in sheets, altering the scenes of the deaths. Another routine. Faced with reports of extrajudicial executions and destruction of evidence, the UN immediately called for an independent investigation. The prosecution is now investigating the complaints.
The activist Louback launches a battery of questions: “Was there a need for so many deaths? What are the police protocols? They were applied? And where are the other public policies, culture, leisure … because the only public policy that reaches (the favela) is that of confrontation? ”. Neighbors and human rights defenders – always reviled by Bolsonaro – claim that even if the victims were dealing with drugs, they had the right to be arrested, tried and, if anything, convicted and imprisoned.
But Brazil does not always work like this. Police brutality is endemic. Of the 47,000 violent deaths in 2019, 13% occurred during police interventions, according to the most recent yearbook of the Brazilian Security Forum. And Rio stands out as the deadliest place for suspects. Crossfire is so prevalent that Fogo Cruzado, a mobile application, alerts anyone in real time.
It is one of the family nightmares in the favelas. Fernanda, 42, says that every time a police operation breaks out, she runs home to be with her children. The boy is the one that most worries this woman who chooses that name to protect herself. “I am very afraid of leaving him alone at home because, at 15 years old, he is very big.” When you are a young, black and poor Brazilian, suspicion is triggered.
It didn’t take long for the business to reopen. Marijuana, coca and crack were sold this Tuesday in full view of all on tables installed in the street, as if they were trinkets. Every favela customiza its merchandise with a packaging that distinguishes it from the other neighborhoods.
Drug trafficking is one of the ingredients of Rio de Janeiro’s criminal cocktail behind its beautiful facade. The dispute over the territory is fierce and the burgeoning paramilitary groups, with suspicious ties to the Bolsonaro clan, already control more space than the narco. Lifelong crime linked to underground gambling and a political class eaten away by corruption complete the cocktail.
Here in Jacarezinho (crocodile) the footballer Romario, now a senator, gave his first touches. Account Pimentel, whom the neighbors stop all the time and treat like a mayor, which was an industrial pole that languished saw violence increase. In these alleys hardships and temptations abound. These kids “do not have opportunities to have another life,” insists the yourdoalcalde.
A former neighborhood leader, Marcos de Castro, adds that when your mother has no rent and you live in a place without jobs, opportunities or entertainment, being the boy with the rifle that catches the girls’ attention is very tempting. Easy money. Titanic is, on the other hand, the effort of many mothers to raise their offspring and keep them on the right path. “The police cannot be like criminals, they are there to protect us,” proclaims an indignant neighbor from Jacarezinho.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.