At least eight state police vehicles carrying men armed with assault rifles, some in military fatigues, drove into the Jacarezinho neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 11. They stopped, and before shocked onlookers, used a crowbar to remove metal plates screwed to a small memorial wall erected on the sidewalk over a bridge. Engraved on the plates were the names of 28 people killed during a police operation in Jacarezinho on May 6, 2021, including an officer. The police then tied the memorial to an armored vehicle and tore it down, before smashing the pieces with sledgehammers.
“It was as if they were killing our children again,” Sandra Gomes, who was there, told me. Her son Matheus Gomes, 21, was killed during the raid.
The police claimed the memorial promoted drug dealing and allege “the 27 people it honored had proven involvement with criminal activities,” in reference to the 27 residents killed that day.
After the 2021 raid, the deadliest in Rio’s history, police said two victims, including a 16-year-old boy, had no police record, and although they claimed the other 25 had a record , they did not say if any had been convicted of a crime.
The day of the raid, police took at least 25 victims to the hospital, claiming they were alive, but they all arrived dead. Testimonies and other evidence strongly suggest this was a ruse to destroy crime scene evidence.
Insufficient witness interviews and other failures marred the investigations. Matheus Gomes’ body was photographed reclined on a plastic chair over a pool of blood, but neither police nor prosecutors ever took hold of the chair for forensic analysis, the Public Defender’s Office told me.
Prosecutors have already closed the inquiries into 24 killings, including Gomes’, for alleged lack of evidence. They have charged officers with homicide and tampering with evidence in three of the killings, and charged suspected drug dealers with the killing of the police officer.
Rio’s Attorney General’s Office, whose mandate includes ensuring police abide by the law, has failed to properly investigate the police command for its responsibility in the operation.
With such poor oversight, it’s no wonder Rio police feel empowered to try to destroy even the memory of their brutal actions.