The UN Human Rights Office has condemned the police for killing 28 people in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The police operation started in the early morning, Thursday, May 6, in the Jacarezinho neighbourhood. Police officials claim the operation was aimed at a suspected drug trafficking case. The police violence has caused protest throughout Brazil, with many claiming that President Jair Bolsonaro uses the police to commit genocide against the primarily black victims.
The OHCHR spokesperson, Rupert Colville, condemned the recent incident, calling it the “deadliest such operation in more than a decade” in Rio de Janeiro. Colville continued by expressing disdain towards the treatment of the most marginalized people in Brazil, exclaiming, “[it] furthers a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighbourhoods, known as favelas.”
The Supreme Court ruled that the killings were protected under the “exceptional” clause due to civilians’ lives being in immediate danger. However, Luiz Alexandre Costa, a sociologist and professor of military law at the State University of Rio, explained that “Rio’s police force has always had a lot of power. Turnowski said that since communities are heavily armed with rifles and barricades, this justifies Rio de Janeiro state being a permanent exception.”
The police killings come despite a court ruling in June of 2020 that police were restricted from entering impoverished neighbourhoods in Rio. As reported by BBC News, since the decrease of police, there has been a 40 percent decrease in property crime and a 48 percent decrease in homicides. Researchers argue that police operations like the recent deadly shootout in the Jacarezinho neighbourhood are not the best strategy to stop crime. While many factors can influence crime levels, excessive force used by police could be an indicator for increasing crime. The innocent lives of a population, primarily located in shantytowns, represent 22 percent of the total population in Rio de Janeiro, a disturbingly high number of impoverished people; 70 percent are black.
Vice News claims that residents and witnesses of the horrific police shooting are being threatened to remain silent about the incident. The blatant act of dismissal by officials may create a police environment of accepting brutality, a mentality controlled by President Jair Bolsonaro. The continued targeting of impoverished individuals by police forces in shantytowns could cause innocent lives to face the risks of violence and further divide the communities and government.
In September of 2020, crime had significantly gone down since the court ruling; however, as Vice News reports, that changed once Claudio Castro became the Governor of Rio. Governor Castro appointed Allan Turnowski as the commissioner of Rio’s Civil Police, even though he was expelled from the police force for 10 years on corruption charges. Mr.s Turnowski brought in an ideology of strict policing. According to the Universidade Federal Fluminense, raids in October 2020 doubled to 38 compared to September. The promotion of police violence was exemplified in one of Turnowski’s first interviews as Governor. As Vice News reports, Turnowski claims that the Supreme Court ruling could not prevent the police from entering favelas, even justifying the use of tanks and helicopters against the criminals.
With the current model of strict police enforcement, the impoverished areas of Brazil will continue the cycle of living amongst violence. Aggressive policing goes beyond arresting those who are guilty. Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, claim the police invaded and killed people in their homes, even though they posed no risk of threatening the police. Moreover, the police mentality of shoot first could make police an enemy of the people rather than a protector.