RIO DE JANEIRO: Police in Brazil confronted protests and the UN call an investigation Friday after an assault on a Rio de Janeiro favela left 25 people dead — some reportedly killed in cold blood.
“Stop killing us!” said many protesters from the ruined neighborhood of Jacarezinho, who marched outside police headquarters blaming officials for executing a “massacre.”
“This is one of the most barbaric acts in the history of the Rio police,” student Roger Denis told AFP.
“We’re here to ask for justice for this unjustifiable massacre.”
It was one of a few protests arranged against Thursday’s police activity, which rights groups said was the deadliest ever in a city very used to violence and police killings, especially in poor people, majority-black favelas, or slums.
Police said the operation focused on a drug gang that was recruiting youngsters and teens. It transformed the northern neighborhood into a war zone Thursday morning, leaving streets strewn with corpses and pools of blood.
One of the dead was a cop shot in the head, whose burial Friday evening was expected to draw passionate recognitions from colleagues, just as security hawks like President Jair Bolsonaro and his inner circle.
The other 24 dead were “criminals,” as per police — who currently face mounting calls to prove that, just as inquiries on why they were murdered instead of arrested.
United Nations rights office representative Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva his office was “deeply disturbed” by the killings, and called for investigators to open an “independent, thorough and impartial investigation.”
“We remind the Brazilian authorities that the use of force should be applied only when strictly necessary,” he said.
“Lethal force should be used as a last resort.”
Residents described a heavy firefight, and aerial TV footage from the assault showed armed men on rooftops passing what resembled powerful rifles from one hand to another.
Police said officials had followed all orders before starting to shoot, and showed enormous piles of drugs and guns seized in the activity.
‘They executed him’
Yet, accounts from witnesses, family members and videos posted via social media raised questions.
One resident told to AFP an injured young fellow escaped into her home, just for the police to follow his blood tracks up the steps to her second-floor apartment.
“I just had time to pull my children behind me before they murdered him,” she said.
“They didn’t even give him time to say anything.”
Another resident told news site UOL her husband, 32-year-old Jonas do Carmo dos Santos, had gone out to purchase bread when police shot him at point-blank range.
Dos Santos, who worked in construction and at a pizzeria, was not engaged with crime, she said.
Witnesses revealed to her he was injured in the leg when police started shooting in a back street swarmed with people attempting to escape.
At that point police “came right up to him and executed him,” she said.
“It was an execution. They came to murder.”
He left behind a newborn child, she said.
‘All bad guys’
Bolsonaro’s camp rushed to unite behind the police.
The far-right president won office in 2018 on a pro-gun, pro-security stage, and has close ties with the police and military.
“They were all bad guys,” said Vice President Mourao, a military general, alluding to the 24 killed.
Bolsonaro’s child Eduardo, a congressman, criticized “bums” who questioned the police.
“There’s a police officer murdered, and they defend the murderers,” he wrote on Twitter.
Rio, a iconic beach city of 6.7 million people, is infamous for its violent crime, and furthermore a troubled history of police killings.
A year ago, 1,245 people were killed by police in Rio de Janeiro state — more, for example, than the 1,127 such cases across the whole US.
Specialists questioned why the authorities proceed with a profoundly militarized system against coordinated crime that has created many years of high losses of life and few results.
“When the police leave, the gangs aren’t weaker. The traffickers just get more guns and come back more powerful than before,” said Silvia Ramos, head of the Security Observatory at Candido Mendes University.
“Then the police return shooting even more, leaving the population even more traumatized.”
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