Does the Rio de Janeiro cycle of violence not end? | Drugs


On May 6, residents of the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro were awakened by screams and gunfire. Once the chaos fell and they got enough courage to leave their home, they came face to face with dozens of bloodied corpses scattered through the narrow alleys of the favela.

What they witnessed were the aftermath of the city’s deadliest police operation to date.

In the early hours of the morning, some 200 heavily armed police officers stormed Jacarezinho with bulletproof helicopters and armored vehicles in search of “suspects” from the “Red Command”, the criminal group that currently “governs” the favela. Hours later, 28 people, including a police officer, had died.

Violent police operations, extrajudicial killings and other state-sanctioned human rights violations are difficult to produce in Rio’s favelas. According to research by the Fogo Cruzado Institute, since 2016 there has been at least one “massacre” in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro – an action that has resulted in the deaths of at least three people – in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro. Three out of four of these were killed en masse during police operations.

However, this month’s deadly raid on Jacarezinho should not have happened, according to the Brazilian Supreme Court.

In June 2020, Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin ruled that during the coronavirus pandemic, police should conduct operations in favelas only in “absolutely exceptional cases.”

The sentence had an immediate and substantial effect on the levels of violence in Rio’s numerous favelas. In September 2020, there was a 71% reduction in police killings compared to the same period in 2019. But the calm did not last long. In October, a month after the incumbent governor, Cláudio Castro, took office, police resumed regular operations in the favelas of Rio. In the following months, the city recorded an average of almost one raid each day, according to a report by Geni, a research group at the Federal University of Fluminense (UFF).

This climb reached a new high on May 6th.

That day, police carried out an “operation” on Jacarezinho not only for blatant disregard of the Supreme Court ruling, but also for unprecedented aggression and violence. Several summary executions were reported, and even a photograph showing the body of a person “put” in a humiliating position, presumably by the officers who killed him. The houses were raided without orders and one person died inside a private residence, in front of an elderly relative.

Shortly afterwards it emerged that a police officer had been shot in the head and killed at the beginning of the operation. This led many to conclude that the police attacked the favela with such force to avenge the death of their partner.

But why did the police carry out this operation in the first place, in the midst of a devastating pandemic and despite the Supreme Court’s decision to ban it?

Police initially stated that the operation was carried out as part of an investigation not only into drug trafficking but also other serious crimes such as “solicitation of minors, homicides and robberies” committed by people living in the favela. In the report they issued after the operation, however, they stated that the main purpose of the raid was to arrest 21 individuals suspected of drug trafficking. The only evidence they provided of the alleged criminal actions of these people were photographs of them posted on social media in which they appeared armed.

At the end of the operation, police announced that in addition to killing more than two dozen “suspects”, they confiscated 16 pistols, five rifles, a submachine gun, 12 grenades, 2 shotguns and some ammunition. While this may be considered a successful outcome for a police operation elsewhere, in Rio, where all criminal groups are heavily armed and police regularly confiscate large arsenals of illegal weapons, although it is not news.

All in all, it was clear that the security forces carried out this raid against Jacarezinho not because they had in hand “an absolutely exceptional case” that needed immediate and forceful action, but because they wanted to send a message to the residents of the favela. : we control and decide who lives and who dies in this community.

Unfortunately, this seems to have been the reasoning behind most police operations in Rio in recent years. In fact, UFF investigators have analyzed more than 11,000 police actions in Rio de Janeiro from 2007 to date and found that only 1.7% of these operations were “successful,” i.e. , had a definite motivation, caused a low number of deaths and injuries and led to the confiscation of large quantities of weapons and drugs.

In short, police operations in Rio are not carefully planned actions aimed at curbing violence and effectively combating drug trafficking and other crimes, but a way to make the police show strength, terrorize the population and stay afloat. day of the favelas of the city.

These operations are also part of the “war on drugs” of the Brazilian authorities. But the Brazilian state’s insistence on treating drugs as a criminal issue and not as a public health issue is not helping to curb violence in Rio’s favelas, but rather encouraging it. In fact, most experts agree that decriminalizing drugs is not just a good idea, but probably the only way to start tackling the problem of violence in the city, to be followed by other initiatives, such as investing in education, public health and infrastructure, the construction of social safety nets and police reform.

However, it is unlikely that the Rio authorities will change their ways and start looking for new nonviolent strategies to end violence and crime in the city’s favelas in the near future.

This is because Brazilian far-right president Jair Bolsonaro not only turns a blind eye to deadly, unnecessary and counterproductive police operations in Rio’s favelas, but actively encourages them.

The day before the May 6 operation in Jacarezinho, Bolsonaro met with the governor of Rio in an apparent show of support. After the massacre, he congratulated the city’s security forces on the operation and criticized the “media” and the “left” for treating the “killings by the police as” victims and equating them to ” ordinary and honest citizens who respect the law and its fellow citizens ”.

Bolsonaro’s positive response to an operation that left more than two dozen dead and achieved almost nothing came as no surprise. Since taking office, the president has consistently supported the violent actions of the security forces against favela residents, whom he collectively regards as “bandits”.

Of course, the Brazilian state’s tendency to respond to the problem of violence and crime in the most violent favelas did not begin with Bolsonaro’s presidency.

Former presidents and state officials also contributed to the violence in the favelas with their rhetoric and actions. Former President Dilma Rousseff, for example, sent the army to occupy the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and successive governors and mayors gave their support behind insignificant but deadly police operations.

However, Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, which represents thousands of poor and vulnerable people living in the favelas as “bandits” who must be treated by force and without regard to their human rights, now says there is even less chances that Brazil will break this cycle of violence.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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