Deadly Rio favela raid sparks complaints of police brutality


Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A raid in Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela complex that left at least 18 people dead has sparked new complaints of excessive police brutality and sparked a debate about how to deal with crime before the national and presidential elections.

Authorities in Rio said 16 suspected criminals were killed in clashes with police in the Complexo do Alemao favela, or low-income community, along with a policeman and a woman. The raid targeted a criminal group that stole cars and robbed banks, and invaded nearby neighborhoods.

Videos circulating on social media showed intense shootouts between criminals as well as a police helicopter flying low over the small brick houses. Rio police used helicopters to fire on targets, even in densely populated residential areas, and video showed shots fired from the favela at the plane.

At the raid site, Associated Press reporters saw residents carrying a dozen bodies as passers-by shouted, “We want peace!”

“It’s a massacre inside, which the police call an operation,” a woman told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because she feared reprisals from the authorities. “They won’t let us help (the victims),” she added, claiming to have seen a man arrested for trying to do so.

Ronaldo Oliveira, a Rio police investigator, said officials would have preferred to make arrests of suspects “but unfortunately they chose to shoot our officers”.

Rio state governor Cláudio Castro, who is running for re-election in October, said on Twitter that he mourned the police officer’s death.

“I will continue to fight crime with all my might. We will not back down from the mission of ensuring peace and security for the people of our state,” Castro said.

In another tweet, Castro said his main election rival, leftist Marcelo Freixo, defends criminals who attack the police, “such an important institution that makes us so proud.” Freixo replied that the governor “uses the police to play politics.”

The government’s strategy to tackle violence and organized crime, an approach that regularly sees deadly police operations, has come under criticism. A raid in Rio’s Vila Cruzeiro favela in May killed more than 20 people.

Brazil will also hold presidential elections in October with security a key issue and President Jair Bolsonaro touting a tough on crime approach.

“ENOUGH of this genocidal policy, Governor! Talíria Petrone, a federal lawmaker from Rio, said in response to the governor’s tweet. “This failed public safety policy leaves residents and police on the ground, in droves. It is no longer possible to continue to pile up black bodies and inhabitants of the favelas every day!

Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Igarapé Institute, a Rio de Janeiro-based security-focused think tank, said Thursday’s raid is “a symptom of failing leadership and an institutional culture that tolerates excessive force”.

“Killings resulting from large-scale police operations are a stark reminder that militarized policing is not only ineffective, it is counterproductive,” Muggah said in a text message, adding that such raids generate “extreme violence affecting primarily low-income black populations while corroding trust between residents and law enforcement.

Alemao is a complex of 13 favelas north of Rio, home to around 70,000 people. Almost three-quarters of them are black or biracial, according to a July 2020 study published by the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis.

Earlier this year, Brazil’s Supreme Court established a series of conditions for police to raid Rio’s favelas to reduce police killings and human rights abuses. The court ordered that lethal force should only be used in situations where all other means have been exhausted and when necessary to protect life.

The decision came in response to a raid on the Jacarezinho favela in 2021 that left 28 people dead. As was the case on Thursday, an officer died during that raid, which some at the time believed was the cause of later abuses and summary executions.

Thursday’s operation began before dawn and ended around 4 p.m. local time, police said. Nearly 400 police officers were involved, including Rio’s tactical police unit, according to the police statement.

In a video shared by Voz da Comunidade, a community media outlet focused on Rio’s favelas, residents can be seen calling for peace and waving white sheets from their windows and rooftops.

Fabrício Oliveira, one of the coordinators of the police raid, said authorities feared Friday could be another violent day at Complexo do Alemao.

“Our experience has taught us that after raids like these the police come under attack in every way,” Oliveira said.

Human rights group Amnesty International said on Twitter that prosecutors must immediately investigate the officers involved in Thursday’s raid.

“WHO WILL STOP Governor Cláudio Castro and his disastrous, rights-violating public safety policies in Rio de Janeiro,” the nonprofit organization said. “Enough of so much brutality! THE FAVELA WANTS TO LIVE!


AP journalist Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.


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