On Thursday, May 6th, Brazilian police launched an anti-gang raid in Jacarezinho, a favela located in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The purpose of the operation was to stop one of Brazil’s largest criminal organizations from continuing to recruit minors.
Jacarezinho is dominated by the Brazilian gang, Comando Vermelho or Red Command. The criminal organization, which primarily engages in arms and drug trafficking, frequently tries to recruit minors living in Jacarezinho by sponsoring events like sports games and funk parties. Felipe Curi, General Department of Specialized Police Director stated, “We went to the community to guarantee the rights of that population that lives under the dictatorship of drug trafficking.”
Two hundred heavily armed officers accompanied by armored helicopters and vehicles raided Jacarezinho. The operation left 28 people dead, including one police officer. Additionally, several civilians were injured by stray bullets. The raid is considered one of the deadliest police operations in Rio’s history. The Igarapé Institute, a Rio-based think-tank, noted that “this kind of operation doesn’t dismantle criminal groups, it only causes pain and distrust.”
The police haven’t released any evidence proving that those killed in the raid were confirmed criminals. However, Civil Police Chief Allan Turnowski told reporters, “Intelligence confirmed that the dead were drug dealers. They fired at officers, to kill. [Officers] had orders to confront.” The lack of transparency from the police has caused concern among many human rights groups.
The BBC reported accounts from Jacarezinho residents that differ from what police representatives are saying. “There are boys who have been cornered in the house and want to surrender,” one resident said, referring to the suspects. “And the police want to kill them. They have even killed some in front of us.”
Following the raid, Amnesty International received reports of police officers invading civilian homes and killing people that posed no threat. Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil, Jurema Werneck, called the operation “completely unacceptable.”
Police operations in Brazil are often aggressive and violent. In the first three months of 2021, police officers in the state of Rio de Janeiro killed over 450 people. Many of Brazil’s newer, right-wing politicians encourage the use of warlike tactics to fight gangs. In President Jair Bolsonaro’s 2018 presidential campaign he promised to increase efforts to fight gangs. This led to an increase in favela raids as favelas are generally dominated by criminal organizations.
The Associated Press spoke with Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello. Of the raid, Mello said “We don’t have the death penalty here. Criminals need to be arrested.” Despite this, of the 21 arrest warrants issued by police officers only three targets were actually taken into custody.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the actions of the Brazilian police. The office highlighted the history of “disproportionate and unnecessary” force used by Brazilian police.
Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have called on Brazil to investigate the raid. The spokesperson for the OHCHR, Rupert Colville, released a statement calling “for the prosecutor to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the case according to international standards.”
In Brazil, the conflict between gangs and police has caused tens of thousands of casualties. While Brazilian civilians want the government to expel the gangs, the means that the government uses to do so often puts the lives of civilians at risk. The police need to find new ways to combat these criminal organizations without jeopardizing the lives of innocent Brazilians.