Rio de Janeiro, May 7 (EFE).- Residents of the Jacarezinho favela have accused Civil Police in the Brazilian state Rio de Janeiro of carrying out a “massacre” during a raid on the settlement that left 24 suspects and one police officer dead.
“This was not an intelligence operation, it was a total massacre that forms part of the genocide underway in our country, and especially in our state,” Giovanna Almeida, a 22-year-old student, told Efe during a protest outside the Civil Police station.
Shooting began early Thursday, soon after 200 police entered Jacarezinho, an impoverished, crime-ridden favela (shantytown) on Rio’s north side, to arrest alleged gang members.
Residents said they sheltered in their homes amid the sound of gunfire, explosions and police helicopters hovering over the neighborhood.
“People died sitting down, they died in their houses,” Milena Santos, another student taking part in the protest, told Efe.
“The images speak for themselves, and looking at the direction the blood was flowing, there was no exchange of fire. These were executions, these were assassinations,” she added.
“As a Carioca (Rio native), a woman, young, black and from the favela, my feeling is of repudiation, of sadness. These were 25 young lives. Suspects or not, they did not have to be assassinated. This is criminal, it’s state violence.”
Holding placards emblazoned with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop killing us,” around 70 protesters made their way to the Civil Police station Friday morning before returning to the Jacarezinho favela to lay flowers and light candles.
Around 50 armed police officers supervised the protest.
The Civil Police force claimed the operation targeted a gang of drug traffickers who recruited minors.
During a lengthy press conference Thursday, Commissioner Rodrigo Oliveira said the “very well planned operation,” which complied with all protocols, was the result of 10 months of investigation. He denied there had been any extrajudicial executions.
The police arrested six accused of drug trafficking and seized 16 pistols, six rifles, a machine gun, 12 grenades, a shotgun and ammunition.
The raid in the Rio favela caused international alarm, with the United Nations calling for a full investigation.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “[It] furthers a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighbourhoods, known as favelas.”
He added that it was “particularly disturbing” that the raid took place despite a Federal Supreme Court ruling last year that limited police action in Rio’s favelas during the pandemic.
“We remind the Brazilian authorities that the use of force should be applied only when strictly necessary, and that they should always respect the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality.”
“Lethal force should be used as a last resort and only in cases where there is an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.”
The UN added that it had received reports that police had failed to properly protect evidence at the scene of the operation, which could hamper investigations.
Jacarezinho is reputed to be a bastion of Comando Vermelho (Red Command), the most powerful drug outfit operating in Rio de Janeiro.
Gunfights involving gangs, police and the self-styled militias who battle the gangs to clear the field for their own criminal enterprises are common in the favelas of Brazil’s second-largest city.