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Police raids lead to 25 deaths in Brazil, raising abuse claims

by DAVID BILLER AND MARCELO SILVA DE SOUSA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | May 8, 2021 at 4:16 a.m.
A relative of a person killed Thursday when police raided a slum in Rio de Janeiro joins Friday in protesting the police actions that left 25 people dead. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A bloody, hourslong gunbattle in a Rio de Janeiro slum echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission killed two dozen criminals while residents and activists claimed human-rights abuses.

It was just after sunrise Thursday when dozens of officers from Rio de Janeiro state's civil police stormed Jacarezinho, a favela in the city's northern zone. They were targeting drug traffickers from one of Brazil's most notorious criminal organizations, Comando Vermelho, and the bodies piled up quickly.

When the fighting stopped, there were 25 dead -- one police officer and 24 people described by the police as "criminals."

Rio's moniker of "Marvelous City" often can seem a cruel irony in the favelas, given their violent conflicts, stark poverty and subjugation to drug traffickers or militias. But even so, Thursday's clash was a jarring anomaly that analysts declared one of the city's deadliest police operations ever.

And it was by far the most violent since Brazil's Supreme Court issued a ruling banning most such actions during the pandemic, which drew a rebuke from the U.N.'s human rights office.

The bloodshed also laid bare Brazil's perennial divide over whether, as a common local saying goes, "A good criminal is a dead criminal." Fervent law-and-order sentiment fueled the successful 2018 presidential run of Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain whose home is in Rio. He drew support from much of society with his calls to diminish legal constraints on officers' use of lethal force against criminals.

The administration of Rio state's governor, Claudio Castro, a Bolsonaro ally, said in an emailed statement that it lamented the deaths, but that the operation was "oriented by long and detailed investigative and intelligence work that took months."

The raid sought to rout gang recruitment of teenagers, police said in a statement, which also cited Comando Vermelho's "warlike structure of soldiers equipped with rifles, grenades, bulletproof vests."

Television images showed a police helicopter flying low over the Jacarezinho favela as men with high-powered rifles hopped from roof to roof to evade officers. Others didn't escape.

One resident told The Associated Press that a man barged into her home about 8 a.m. bleeding from a gunshot wound. He hid in her daughter's room, but police rushed in right behind him.

She said she and her family saw officers shoot the unarmed man. Hours later, his blood was still pooled on her tile floor and soaked into a blanket decorated with hearts.

On Friday, protesters gathered outside police headquarters near Jacarezinho to denounce the violence, holding a banner that read, "STOP KILLING US!"

Felipe Curi, a detective in Rio's civil police, denied there were any executions.

"There were no suspects killed. They were all traffickers or criminals who tried to take the lives of our police officers and there was no other alternative," he said at a news conference.

Curi said some suspects had sought refuge in residents' homes, and six of them were arrested. Police also seized 16 pistols, six rifles, a submachine gun, 12 grenades and a shotgun, he said.

Bolsonaro's son Carlos, a Rio city councilman who is influential on social media, supported the police. He expressed condolences to the family of the fallen officer on Twitter, while skipping any mention of the other 24 dead or their families.

The president didn't refer to the incident at all Thursday night in his weekly live broadcast on Facebook. His vice president, Hamilton Mourao, told media outlets Friday in Brasilia that it is unfortunate that "true narco-guerillas" retain control over areas in Rio.

Bolsonaro's rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said any operation that produces two dozen deaths doesn't qualify as public security.

"That is the absence of a government that offers education and jobs, the cause of a great deal of violence," said da Silva, who is widely expected to mount a challenge to Bolsonaro's reelection bid next year.

Information for this article was contributed by Mauricio Savarese and Diarlei Rodrigues of The Associated Press.

Blood covers the floor of a home during a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio's civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Blood covers the floor of a home during a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio's civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Police get out of an armored vehicle during an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Police get out of an armored vehicle during an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Activists and the relatives of victims light candles and hold a banner that reads in Portuguese "Stop killing us" the day after a deadly police operation in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, May 7, 2021. A bloody, hourslong gunbattle here echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission killed two dozen criminals while residents and activists claimed human rights abuses. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Activists and the relatives of victims light candles and hold a banner that reads in Portuguese "Stop killing us" the day after a deadly police operation in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, May 7, 2021. A bloody, hourslong gunbattle here echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission killed two dozen criminals while residents and activists claimed human rights abuses. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A woman light candles near a sign that reads "Genocide" the day after a deadly police operation in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, May 7, 2021. A bloody, hourslong gunbattle here echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission killed two dozen criminals while residents and activists claimed human rights abuses. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
A woman light candles near a sign that reads "Genocide" the day after a deadly police operation in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, May 7, 2021. A bloody, hourslong gunbattle here echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission killed two dozen criminals while residents and activists claimed human rights abuses. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Residents protest a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died during the operation, including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio's civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Residents protest a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died during the operation, including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio's civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Police conduct an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Police conduct an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Police conduct an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Police conduct an operation against alleged drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
EDS NOTE: OBSCENITY - Youths protest a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died during the operation, including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio's civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
EDS NOTE: OBSCENITY - Youths protest a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Jacarezinho favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, May 6, 2021. At least 25 people died during the operation, including one police officer and 24 suspects, according to the press office of Rio's civil police. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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