RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil—At least 24 people were killed by the deadliest police raid on record in Rio de Janeiro today when at least 200 armed officers entered the city's biggest slum, reportedly in pursuit of drug traffickers.
Photos and videos from the Jacarezinho favela, one of the city’s biggest, showed the bodies of victims of the raid—mostly young men—splayed across the slums narrow streets and blood-smeared floors.
Residents reported feeling terrorized as government helicopters hovered overhead. At least one police officer was also killed, according to media on the scene.
In the early hours of this morning, local media showed live footage of at least seven armed young men moving through favela homes and hiding behind walls, after two passengers were shot by a stray bullet in the metro and one police man was injured. The report said the young “thugs” were “evidently suspicious” and were “trying to escape” and “terrorising” families by entering their homes without permission.
But witnesses told VICE World News the men were trying to “protect themselves” and did not want confrontation.
The raid was celebrated by officials as a successful attack on combating drug trafficking organizations such as the Commando Vermelho, which they claimed were attempting to recruit young men to crime, according to local media reports.
But it was condemned by human rights defenders.
“This is one of the most revolting and lethal days in Rio’s history but city officials are silent. The police have said that the operation was perfectly acceptable and that the men were ‘suspect,’" said Pedro Paulo Santos Silva, a researcher from Rio’s Centre for Studies on Public Security and Citizenship.“Nowhere in the world are people executed on this scale without committing crimes.”
An activist who was in the Jacarezinho favela when the raid took place on Thursday described scenes of terror to VICE World News after she said local police barged into residents’ homes and instantly shot those trying to escape in front of young children:
“One resident, a young mother with a baby, told me the police questioned her, asking whether anyone was hiding in her home. For fear of being shot, she told the police there was but that they were already hurt. The police shot the man in an instant,” they said. VICE World News agreed to keep the activist anonymous because of fears about their safety. “This wasn’t a police operation. It was an execution. A slaughter. The police came here to kill.”
Thursday’s raid came despite a Supreme Court ban on favela raids during the COVID-19 pandemic in Rio. An average of one child a month was killed by a stray bullet in Rio in the last year, the majority of those during police operations in the city’s favelas.
Brazils’ police are some of the most deadly in the world. In Rio alone, more than 1,200 people were killed by the police in 2020. That’s more than the entire number of people who died at the hands of police in the United States during the same year, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, which refers to police brutality in Latin America’s biggest nation as a “chronic” problem.
VICE World News has reported on how the ban has already been ignored by the police, and Thursday’s raid is the most egregious example of that to date. Local media reported that the Public Ministry had been previously informed about the operation.
“Rio is a city of massacres. The local media supports these attacks, calling us “criminals,” but a criminal is only someone from a favela,” the activist said.
As is the case across Latin America, militarized crackdowns against organized crime and drug cartels are the go-to strategy for governments struggling to contain criminal power and governance.
But they are also the root of the region’s sky-high homicide rates and have been shown to do little to hinder the international drug trade. The victims of drug wars around the world are usually poor, marginalized minorities, and the security forces sent out to fight them are usually part of administrations hobbled by corruption and compromised by criminal impunity.