On May 26, police said the number of people killed during the raid was 23, and not 26, as originally reported. Police said the three additional victims had been killed in a different neighborhood in circumstances unrelated to the police operation. The story below has been updated.
Early on May 24, 2022, a military-style operation in Vila Cruzeiro, an impoverished neighborhood in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, forced residents to scramble for cover under volleys of shots. Schools, health clinics, and shops did not open that morning, and people could not go to work. Over the following 12 hours, casualties kept arriving at a nearby hospital. At the end of the carnage, at least 23 people were dead and 5, including a police officer, injured.
It was the second deadliest police operation in Rio´s history, after a May 2021 raid that left 28 people dead in Jacarezinho, another favela about eight kilometers away.
In both instances, police said they opened fire after being shot at. The investigations into the Jacarezinho killings lacked basic forensic analysis and witness testimonies. Prosecutors closed most of the cases without any charges.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who has introduced several bills to make it even more difficult to hold abusive police officers accountable, congratulated the “warriors” who conducted the Vila Cruzeiro raid and “neutralized” what he called “thugs.” His message to police was clear: You can continue killing with impunity.
Police said 15 victims were suspected drug dealers and a woman was killed by a stray bullet. They have said nothing about the other seven people killed.
In June 2020, Brazil´s Supreme Court prohibited police from conducting raids in low-income neighborhoods in Rio except in “absolutely exceptional cases.” As a result, police killings dropped 72 percent from June through September 2020.
Police justified the Vila Cruzeiro raid saying criminals were moving into Rio because of that court decision. In reality, police have had no qualms about increasing the number of operations since October 2020, flouting the ruling.
Meanwhile, Rio state Attorney General´s Office has dismantled the prosecutorial unit specialized in investigating police violence and is failing to ensure thorough investigations into police killings. That office needs to start doing a better job.
In March, Rio adopted a plan to curb police killings – which have a disproportionate impact on Black people – as ordered by the Supreme Court. But the plan lacks benchmarks and a budget, and was never discussed with civil society. The Vila Cruzeiro raid highlights the need for a thorough reform to make police more effective and accountable.
Otherwise, many more family members are likely to gather outside the coroner´s office after police operations to cry for their loved ones.