Last Thursday morning, Rio de Janeiro police units entered the sprawling favela Jacarezinho with bulletproof helicopters and armored vehicles. They came in through a heavily disputed avenue that divides two criminal gangs, in an area known as the Gaza Strip. By the end of the raid, at least 28 people had been killed, including a police officer, in one of the bloodiest police operations in Rio’s history.
The death toll was shocking, even for a police force notorious for its lethality. Police officers kill thousands of Brazilians every year, the overwhelming majority Black and poor. In 2019 alone, police killed some 5,800 people.
When I arrived at Jacarezinho, I could hear a teenage girl crying, “They killed them, they killed them.” The terror was still palpable on the faces of residents.
I entered a few houses where blood was everywhere: on the sofas, the walls, mattresses. Families rushed to clean their homes with bleach and other products after the raids because they had no place to go.
The residents were unaware that the cleaning might hinder any police investigations, but the police did not seem interested in conducting forensic analysis of the scenes, so the exact circumstances surrounding the killings will likely remain unanswered.
The authorities considered the raid a success, but that’s not how residents saw it. They didn’t feel secure — they felt attacked and terrorized by a raid that was also illegal, since operations had been paused during the pandemic by court order.
In Rio, the police, far from protecting and serving, seem determined to keep pouring gasoline on a never-ending cycle of violence.