“It’s a massacre inside, which police are calling an operation,” one woman told AP, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she feared reprisals from authorities. ”They’re not letting us help (victims),” she added, saying she saw one man arrested for attempting to do so.
Ivan Blas, spokesperson for the state’s military police, said at a press conference that the number of dead is still being tallied. In earlier statements, the force said that an officer was killed, and that the raid had targeted a criminal group in Complexo do Alemao that stole vehicles and cargo and robbed banks as well as invaded nearby neighborhoods.
“I will continue to fight crime with all my strength. We will not back down from the mission of guaranteeing peace and security to the people of our state,” said Rio state Gov. Cláudio Castro on his official Twitter profile, lamenting the officer’s death.
But many disagree with the government’s strategy for tackling violence and organized crime, an approach that regularly sees deadly police operations.
“ENOUGH of this genocidal policy, governor!” Talíria Petrone, a federal lawmaker for Rio, said in response to the governor’s tweet. “This failed public security policy leaves residents and police on the ground, en masse. It’s no longer possible to keep piling up black bodies and favela residents every day!”
Alemao is a complex of 13 favelas in northern Rio, home to about 70,000 people. Nearly three-quarters of them are Black or biracial, according to a July 2020 study published by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economical Analyses.
Earlier this year, Brazil’s Supreme Court established a series of conditions for police to conduct raids in Rio’s favelas as a means to reduce police killings and violations of human rights. The court ordered that lethal force be used only in situations in which all other means have been exhausted and when necessary to protect life.
The ruling came in response to a raid on the Jacarezinho favela in 2021 that resulted in 28 people being killed; it was the deadliest police operation in Rio’s history, according to a group focused on studying the issue at the Federal Fluminense University. As was the case Thursday, an officer died during that raid, which some speculated at the time was the cause for subsequent abuse and summary executions.
Thursday’s operation began before dawn and was still underway at midday. Nearly 400 police officers were involved, including Rio’s tactical police unit, backed up by four helicopters and 10 bullet-proofed vehicles, according to the police statement.
Videos circulating on social media showed intense shootouts between criminals as well as a police helicopter flying low over the small, brick houses. Rio’s police have used helicopters to shoot at targets, even in densely populated residential areas, and video showed shots being fired from the favela at the aircraft.
In another video shared by Voz da Comunidade, a community news outlet focused on Rio’s favelas, residents can be seen calling for peace and waving white cloths from their windows and rooftops.