RIO DE JANEIRO – Police action aimed at drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday morning left at least 25 people dead, including a police officer, in an operation that officials and human rights activists called the deadliest in the city’s history.
In an armed battle in Jacarezinho, a working-class slum controlled by a drug gang known as the Comando Vermelho or Red Command, at least two subway passengers were wounded and hit while their train was caught in a crossfire.
Residents and human rights activists accused police of using excessive force and questioned why the operation was launched in the first place, given that the Supreme Court banned the search of laws in the city during the pandemic.
Nadine Borges, vice president of the human rights commission at the Brazilian Bar Association, said a team of fact-finding lawyers had heard cold preliminary bills.
“There have been executions of people who have already surrendered,” she said. “It was absolute barbarism.”
Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, described the police operation as the deadliest that took place in Rio de Janeiro. “This is unprecedented,” she said.
Police commanders said the shooting began at 6 a.m. when police officers who had arrived to support an arrest warrant were shot at. They said one police officer André Leonardo de Mello Frias was fatally shot in the head.
“There was no execution, but a reaction to the attack,” said Roberto Cardoso, the police commander.
Another commander, Felipe Curi, said the arrest warrants were the result of a ten-month investigation into the recruitment of minors from drug gangs. He called the police administration a “guarantor of rights” working to free people from the “dictatorship of human trafficking”.
Rio de Janeiro police operations are among the deadliest in the world: Police killed at least 1,810 people in the state of Rio de Janeiro in 2019, record high. Police officers are rarely the subject of criminal investigation or prosecution.
Fights between police and gang members in Rio de Janeiro are common. Heavily armed traffickers act as de facto authorities in vast parts of the city, including Jacarezinho, where drugs are sold on the horizon.
Elected officials who criticized the police condemned the raid on Thursday.
“The slaughter in Jacarezinho is a typical example of the barbarism that takes place in the favelas of Rio,” said Talíria Petrone, a federal MP from Rio de Janeiro. “The state does the minimum to guarantee rights, and the maximum to suppress and kill.”
A Supreme Court judge last June banned routine police operations in Rio de Janeiro during a pandemic. The judiciary, Edson Fachin, said that the police can only perform those operations that are considered “absolutely exceptional”.
Joel Luiz Costa, a lawyer from Jacarezinho, said he visited several homes where people were killed on Thursday and saw evidence that residents had been executed.
“This is cruel. This is barbaric, ”he said in a video posted on Twitter. “Did that end the drug trade because 25 people were killed?” Will this end the drug trade? “
The operation in Jacarezinho was undertaken less than a week after Rio de Janeiro’s new governor, Cláudio Castro, took office. Governor Castro, whose predecessor Wilson Witzel has been accused of corruption, said fighting crime is one of his top priorities.
“I’m committed to reducing the rate of violence,” he said during his swearing-in ceremony on Saturday.
Rodrigo Oliveira, deputy police chief, said his officers were behaving lawfully.
“The only person killed was a police officer,” he said. “Other deaths occurred in human trafficking that attacked police and were neutralized.”