Global Opinions

Police brutality in Rio keeps terrorizing citizens

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.

Police officers entering the Jacarezinho favela. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

Residents of Jacarezinho said people ran through their homes while fleeing the police. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

According to residents, the holes in this wall were created by bullets during the shootout. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

The floor of a house covered in blood after the raid. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

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.

Residents of the favela said police officers used this chair to execute several people. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

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.

The schoolbooks of a 9-year-old girl were covered in blood and left to be thrown away. The family said a man was shot dead in their living room. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

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.

Residents clean blood from their kitchen and living room. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

A blanket covered in blood was removed from a house after the raid. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

A boy shows a photo of the aftermath of the raid in his house, where police officers killed a man accused of being a drug dealer. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

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 Jacarezinho favela is a maze of flats and buildings along alleys that make raids difficult for the police and dangerous for residents. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

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.

A woman yells at an armored vehicle used by the police on favela raids. The tanks are known as “caveirão,” or “big skull.” (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)

In Rio, the police, far from protecting and serving, seem determined to keep pouring gasoline on a never-ending cycle of violence.

Bullet holes covered a metal door in Jacarezinho a day after the police raid. (Francisco Proner/Agence VU’)