By Jamari Stanton, Staff Writer
A merciless police raid in a Rio de Janeiro favela on the morning of May 6 left at least 25 people dead, including one police officer, and many wounded. Shortly after dawn, law enforcement descended upon Jacarezinho, an impoverished, mostly non-white community, deploying armored helicopters and over 200 heavily armed officers in a carefully planned attack that many have dubbed “the Jacarezinho Massacre.”
Jacarezinho is the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro and is dominated by one of Brazil’s most notorious drug trafficking gangs– Comando Vermelho, or Red Command. The conflict lasted for hours into the early afternoon as residents hid in their homes while police officers slaughtered 24 suspects and arrested six. Despite the excessive use of lethal force, lack of arrests, and witness accounts of suspects being executed after surrendering, police deny fault and attest they merely acted in self-defense.
According to a Civil Police statement, the operation was intended to counter gang activity and protect civilians.
“The action was based on concrete intelligence and investigation information. On occasion, criminals reacted strongly. Not just to run away but to kill,” the statement read. “The war scenario imposed by these gangs demonstrates the importance of operations so that criminal organizations do not strengthen themselves.”
Robert Muggah, co-founder of the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that documents trends in violence, described the assault as a “dangerous reminder of the persistence of police violence in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.”
According to Human Rights Watch, in 2019, police in Brazil killed 6,357 people and 80% of victims were Black. Leading up to the pandemic, police killings rose 6% in the first half of 2020.
The operation was undeterred by Brazil’s Supreme Court ruling suspending police raids in Rio’s favelas during the pandemic unless “absolutely exceptional.” Along with Justice Edson Fachin, the United Nations human rights office urges the Brazilian government to conduct an impartial investigation into the massacre amid accounts of arbitrary and extra-judiciary executions.
15 days earlier, a police operation in Elizabeth City, North Carolina ended with the execution of Andrew Brown Jr, a 42-year-old unarmed African American man. Sheriff deputies executing an arrest warrant surrounded Brown’s vehicle with their weapons drawn, including at least one semiautomatic rifle. Brown drove away from the deputies and was shot five times, including once in the back of his head, causing him to strike a tree.
On Tuesday, May 18, Pasquotank County District Attorney Alex Womble announced that the officers responsible will not face any criminal charges. The State Bureau of Investigation determined that Brown “used his vehicle as a deadly weapon” while resisting arrest, thus justifying his execution. The three officers that opened fire will be disciplined and retrained, but will not lose their jobs, despite Brown losing his life.
The justification of Andrew Brown Jr.’s murder is particularly dangerous because it allows police to surround suspects and execute them for noncompliance. Rather than exhausting other possible methods to detain fleeing suspects, officers are permitted to kill, as this line of reasoning shields guilty officers behind weak endangerment claims.
“The law does not require officers in a tense or dangerous situation to wait until the moment a suspect uses a deadly weapon to act to stop the suspect,” Womble explained at a press conference before showing a small portion of the over four hours of existing body camera footage from the encounter.
Brown’s execution sparked national outrage and demands for the release of unredacted body camera footage. The reluctance of police to publish body camera footage prevents them from being used to effectively hold officers accountable.
With the help of institutions designed to protect them, law enforcement officers around the globe execute Black men suspected of committing crimes and walk freely due to feeble self-defense assertions. The unnerving use of lethal force demonstrated by police throughout the world emphasizes the extent of their disdain for Black lives.