A bloody, hour-long shootout in a Rio de Janeiro slum echoed on Friday, with authorities claiming the police mission killed two dozen criminals while residents and activists claim human rights violations .
It was just after sunrise on Thursday that dozens of Rio de Janeiro state civil police officers stormed Jacarezinho, a 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 ended, there were 25 dead – one policeman and 24 people called “criminals” by the police.
Rio’s nickname “wonderful city” can often seem a cruel irony in the favelas, given their extreme poverty, violent crimes, and submission to drug traffickers or militias. But even here, Thursday’s clash was a shocking anomaly that analysts said was one of the city’s deadliest police operations.
The bloodshed also exposed Brazil’s permanent divide over whether, as a local saying goes, “a good criminal is a dead criminal”. A strong sense of policing fueled the success of the 2018 presidential election by Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain whose home is in Rio. He has drawn the support of much of society with his calls to reduce legal constraints on the use of lethal force by officers against criminals.
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The administration of Rio State Governor Cláudio Castro, an ally of Bolsonaro, said in an emailed statement that it deplored the deaths, but that the operation was “guided by investigative work and of long and detailed information that took months ”.
The raid was aimed at ending the recruitment of teenagers by gangs, police said in an earlier statement, which also cited “Comando Vermelho’s war structure of soldiers equipped with rifles, grenades and bulletproof vests.”
Television footage showed a police helicopter flying low over the Jacarezinho favela as men armed with powerful rifles jumped from roof to roof to evade officers.
Others did not escape.
A resident told The Associated Press that a man broke into her home around 8 a.m. bleeding from a gunshot wound. He hid in his daughter’s bedroom, but the police rushed behind him.
She said she and her family saw police shoot the unarmed man.
Hours later, her blood was still pooled on her tiled floor and soaked in a blanket decorated with hearts.
On Friday, demonstrators gathered outside the police headquarters near Jacarezinho to denounce the violence, holding a banner that read “STOP KILLING US!” “
Even soon after the shooting ended, around 50 Jacarezinho residents spilled into a narrow street to follow members of the state legislature’s Human Rights Commission conducting an inspection. They shouted “Justice! »While applauding. Some raised their straight fists in the air.
Felipe Curi, a detective in Rio’s civilian police, denied that there had been any executions.
“No suspect was killed. They are all traffickers or criminals who tried to kill our police and there was no other alternative, ”he said at a press conference.
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Curi said some suspects had sought refuge in residents’ homes and six of them had been arrested. Police also seized 16 pistols, six rifles, a machine gun, 12 grenades and a shotgun, he said.
Carlos, the son of Bolsonaro, a Rio city councilor with influence on social media, supported the police. He expressed his condolences to the family of the deceased officer on Twitter, while skipping any mention of the other 24 dead or their families. The president did not mention the incident at all on Thursday night in his weekly live stream on Facebook.
Bolsonaro’s political rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has said any operation that kills two dozen does not qualify as public safety.
“It is the lack of a government that provides education and jobs that is the cause of a lot of violence,” said da Silva, who is generally expected to challenge the candidacy of Bolsonaro for re-election next year.
Brazilian divisions of international advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have 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 attorney’s office said in a statement to the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that it would investigate the violence charges, adding that the case required an independent police investigation.
Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled last year banning police operations in Rio’s favelas during the pandemic unless they are “absolutely exceptional.”
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The order came after police shot dead a 14-year-old in a house where there was no indication of illegal activity. The teenager’s death sparked a Brazilian iteration of Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the city’s metropolitan area for weeks.
The ruling, which remains in effect, caused a drop in police operations in the middle of last year, as evidenced by a drop in the number of shootings reported by Crossfire, a non-government group that monitors violence, and in the data official documents on death resulting from a police intervention. But both indicators are back to around pre-pandemic levels.
The Candido Mendes University Public Security Observatory said Rio police killed an average of more than five people a day in the first quarter of 2021, the deadliest start to the year since the government government began to regularly publish such data more than two decades ago.