The Jacarezinho Massacre: Police Raid Takes the Lives of 28 Civilians

On May 8, 2021, the Rio police launched a shootout which took the lives of 28 people in the favela of Jacarezinho, with two civilians left brutally injured by stray bullets. Given the colossal number of deaths, the tragic event has started being referred to as the Jacarezinho Massacre. Despite the establishment of rules set in place to limit the police, they continued to use lethal forces against some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

Rio remains as one of Brazil’s most violent and crime ridden areas, in which vast areas of land are occupied and even under the complete control of criminals, many of which are linked to powerful drug trafficking gangs. Although the presence of such gangs may lead some to believe there is a need for more law enforcement to foster an environment in which people feel safe and secure, the police present themselves as yet another source of fear for the citizens.

The police have been accused of using excessive force against civilians repeatedly when conducting their so called ‘anti-crime operations’. With the issue becoming increasingly prevalent, awareness around the topic is of great significance given the recent Black Lives Matter movement, which was triggered by policeman Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The Jacarezinho massacre and the tragic death of George Floyd both point to the fact that police are given too much authority, allowing them to abuse their power. As for Brazil, the Human Rights Watch has reported that in 2019 alone, a total of 6,357 people were killed by the police, in which 80% of the victims were African America people. In the first six months of the 2020 alone, police killings rose by a whole 6%. Additionally, in the first three months of 2021, the police have been responsible for the death of more than 450 people. However, this massacre stands out from the rest since it includes the highest death toll due to a police operation in Rio.

The raid commenced after the police received various reports stating the intentions of drug traffickers, who were allegedly set on a mission to recruit children in the neighborhood for their gang. The police targeted the gang which has known to have carried out and engaged in drug trafficking, muggings, murders, and kidnappings. Helicopters and 200 heavily armed police officers infiltrated the neighborhood, which happens to be the home to a lot of low-income families. Even though the police were out to arrest the gang members, they started harassing innocent residents instead. The surviving residents of the neighborhood recalled the horrific event, saying that the police were mindlessly gunning down people, including those who were complying and surrendering to their demands. They barged into homes without warrants, which illustrated their clear lack of respect for privacy or the law. They even went as far as seizing the phones of the residents and accused them of using such devices to warn wanted gang members of the raid.

Instead of owning up to their actions, the police have done quite the opposite in displaying no sense of remorse or admitting to any sort of wrongdoing. They justified their unlawful behaviour by conveniently labelling it as self defense, even though that is far from the truth.

The incident was a direct violation of the rules set forth by the Brazil Supreme Court, who banned all police operations in favelas during the pandemic which was put in effect starting July 5, 2020. Although it’s evident that the federal authorities recognized and took action to minimize the total authority of the police, the state government has totally failed in complying with the decision set forth by the nation’s highest court. The police were only to be used as a last resort in extreme circumstances. However, this event alone is a clear representation of the complete disregard the police have when it comes to abiding by the law which they are supposed to be enforcing.

In terms of international response, the United States Human Rights Office stepped up at a briefing on Friday in Geneva and demanded an independent thorough investigation into the massacre and acknowledged the unethical behaviour of the police by calling their use of force ‘disproportionate and unnecessary’. The call for investigation came from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights along the support of Amnesty International who also publicly condemned the raid. It’s good to know that such an horrific occurrence is not something people are rushing to cover up or ignore. The launch of the investigation was a step in the right direction given the way people have been questioning the intentions of the police. Professor Ignacio Cano from the laboratory for the Analysis of Violence at Rio State University said, “to say that you’re going to launch a massive raid because you’ve discovered that traffickers recruit children is a joke”. It is only through such an investigation that the government can acquire those who ordered and actively participated in the massacre and hold them accountable. However, it is of great essence that things be taken further than just an investigation and that people don’t just see its results as a conclusion to the incident. Proper legal action needs to be taken to prevent from similar episodes from happening again. The government should impose strict penalties on police officers who ignore their order, rather than letting them off the hook for killing thousands of people over the course of a year.

Rather than fueling the turmoil the impoverished favelas were facing because of the pandemic, the citizens of Rio should feel confident that their government is on their side. To ease the burden of those living in those neighborhoods, who are already suffering living in cramped areas and working at informal jobs, more money needs to go into the development of favelas, which have historically been neglected by government officials. This incident should be used as a wakeup call for state officials to finally intervene and provide support to those who are in desperate need of it, rather than sitting idly by and letting it become another massacre for future history books.