Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Monica Cunha felt she had to speak. That is why the activist joined a group of other mothers, all of whom lost children due to the violence of the Brazilian state in recent years, to denounce the brutality of Rio de Janeiro. most lethal police operation in register.
“We are upset,” said Cunha, who still lives with the scars of losing her son in a police raid 15 years ago, about the violence in Jacarezinho’s favela last week. “In 15 years I have not seen a protest on this scale for the murders of teenagers. These guys are human; they have first and last names. We are saying no to these murders. “
With banners saying, “Stop killing us!”, The mothers were among a crowd of about 100 activists who gathered at Jacarezinho’s entrance on Friday morning. Less than 24 hours earlier, the impoverished and extensive favela had been shot.
Dozens of civilian and federal police officers had broken into the slums in the northern area in an operation that they said targeted the drug traffickers. Neighbors reported feeling terrified and trapped as grenades exploded in the streets and helicopters circled over their red-brick houses for an hour-long operation. resulted in 28 deaths – especially young men.
Despite the furious COVID-19 pandemicOn Friday night, thousands of activists and young human rights defenders took the subway to Jacarezinho, about 18 km from Copacabana Beach in Rio, to denounce the violence and demand an end to impunity. police. The crowded streets were lit by candles. “Stop the massacre in the favelas!” called the crowd.
After identifying a 48-year-old police officer killed during the operation, Rio police on Saturday publicly released the identities of the other 27 people killed. Rio de Janeiro State Civil Police and the state prosecutor’s office, the body responsible for police oversight, said the operation took place “without errors” after investigations by intelligence revealed that children and teenagers were recruited to join the drug faction of the Red Command that dominates the favela.
The civilian police force said Thursday in a note it had orders to imprison 21 “suspected criminals.”
The Rio de Janeiro State Human Rights Commission (OAB-RJ), an independent judicial commission, told Al Jazeera that families in the favela had identified the bodies of 16 people killed during the police raid on Friday. before police revealed the names of the dead. They were men between 18 and 34 years old.
Commission President Alvaro Quintao said more bodies had arrived on Friday afternoon.
“Police imprisoned and shot dead six youths on the list of suspects, but at least 13 of the murders were unrelated to the original investigation,” Quintao said. “We can say with certainty that not everyone was a criminal. Some of the list had committed previous crimes but had already served a sentence.
Photographs taken by residents and shared with Al Jazeera show police taking away the bodies. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights dit on Friday he had received “worrying reports that after the events, police did not take steps to preserve evidence at the crime scene, which could make it difficult to investigate this lethal operation.”
Police have denied any wrongful offense or carried out any “execution-style murder,” as human rights groups have done. supposed – during the operation in Jacarezinho. They say they acted in self-defense.
Brazilian government officials, including Vice President Hamilton Mourao, have also insisted the killings were “all criminals,” without providing any evidence or detailing the crimes they allegedly committed. “Unfortunately, these drug gangs are real narco-guerrillas, they have control over certain areas,” Mourao said on Friday.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who said last year that criminals should “die like cockroaches,” posted an image of five rifles, a machine gun, two shotguns and social media on Friday. six grenades confiscated during the raid. He said anyone who defends criminals is a “vagabond.”
But residents, human rights activists, and criminal lawyers say the delay in disclosing the names of the victims suggested that police were aware that not all the dead were criminals.
“There is no death penalty in Brazil. Even if they were suspicious, the police cannot decide who lives and who dies. They still have to be tried, ”said Renata Sousa, a member of the state legislature in Rio de Janeiro (Alerj) who works on a special commission that investigates extreme poverty.
The State Ministry of Public Affairs said in a note on Thursday night that it would investigate any allegations of abuse and begin a criminal investigation through the Rio de Janeiro prosecutor’s office. But the UN has demanded an independent investigation and criticized the “unnecessary and disproportionate” use of force in Rio’s police operations.
Bruno Fernandes, a criminal lawyer and professor at Rio de Janeiro State University, told Al Jazeera that the focus of the investigations is likely to be the context of the operations and which police officers were involved in the deaths.
Fernandes said deaths during police operations are considered justified if the lives of police or the civilian population are in imminent danger. But he said shooting unarmed people or anyone who has not opened fire is illegal.
Favela residents and local media have said many of the killers were trying to escape, were unarmed, had tried to surrender and were shot inside houses.
“Many residents said some of the youths tried to negotiate and surrender, but were shot anyway. Others were taken to the families’ homes and shot. There were puddles of blood. It was a massacre,” Sousa said. .
Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin has also expressed concern about the violence.
In a letter addressed to the prosecutor’s director on Friday, Fachin said a video of the police operation appeared to show an “arbitrary execution.” The judge said he must stay informed of the investigation so that those responsible can be held accountable.
The deadly attack came despite Fachin’s decision in June 2020, which banned police operations in favelas during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ban includes a ban on using helicopters unless it is in “absolutely exceptional circumstances”.
According to a report by Ceni, a research group at the Federal University of Fluminense (UFF), raids on favelas fell by 70% in the first two months after Fachin’s order, but soared again in October .
Activists have blamed Rio de Janeiro State Governor Claudio Castro, who took office that month, for the rise after he appointed a new Rio civilian police commissioner. Allan Turnowski, in one of his first interviews, said he would not abide by the ban and defended the use of tanks in the favelas.
For residents and activists, the bloody events in Jacarezinho are just one example of countless “invisible” deaths from raids by the Rio police force, one of the most violent in the world.
Fogo Cruz, a technology company that monitors police violence, reported that more than 1,000 people have died in 275 police raids in the state of Rio de Janeiro over the past five years. The Institute of Public Safety, a state investigative body, also found that one death occurred as a result of police clashes in the state every 10 hours since 1998, but that it is rarely responsible for the police.
A 2015 Amnesty International report analyzing 220 investigations into police killings in 2011 in the state of Rio de Janeiro found that 183 of those investigations were still pending four years later.
Still, residents and activists hope international pressure can bring justice to the families of Jacarezinho’s youth and take steps to address Rio’s chronic violence and public safety crisis.
“How can an operation that ends with the massacre of 28 people be considered a success,” asked Cunha, the local activist.