“My Son Asked if It Was the End of the World”: Rio de Janeiro Favela Protests Police Raids

Jacarezinho residents endure intense shootouts after a police officer was killed in an operation last week; four other people have since been killed.

Rio de Janeiro is in the middle of an unprecedented wave of violence, and nowhere in the city is feeling that more acutely than the favela of Jacarezinho.

Statewide “fiscal calamity” and nationwide economic and political crises have exacerbated chaos and bloodshed in the city. Many public health clinics have been closed, the state university suspended the academic year, and public servants are forced to rely on donations because salaries have not been paid for months. This year, 97 military police officers have been killed, nearly one every two days. Financial aid is in short supply, but last month, President Michel Temer signed a Law and Order Guarantee — a sort of state of emergency — that permitted him to deploy thousands of soldiers to help patrol Rio de Janeiro’s streets. The state government has offered only one solution to the public security crisis: more aggressive policing.

So that is exactly what Jacarezinho has received. After four days of intense police operations that hardly appeared in the press, we went to the neighborhood on Tuesday to witness what was happening ourselves. Hours before, Sebastião Sabino da Silva, 46, was killed near his family’s fruit stand during a Civil Police attack operation in the favela.

Jacarezinho, in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone, is one of the largest favelas in the city and has one of the lowest human development indexes. A few meters from the neighborhood’s main entrance sits the Police City, a large complex that contains many divisions of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, including the Special Operations and Tactics Unit (CORE). Last Friday, a CORE officer was killed during an operation in the community, triggering a series of incursions into the favela with the stated purpose of apprehending those responsible. The Comando Vermelho gang controls the neighborhood.

When we arrived around 9 p.m., Jacarezinho residents, tired after nights of much shooting and little sleep, were coming together to protest the operations.

The people try to hide as best they can, but the shootouts do not have a planned time or place.

The demonstration was initially concentrated in front of the Police City. After tear gas grenades were thrown from within the complex, the residents decided to march through the streets calling for peace. We had the honor of accompanying the march, as can be seen in the above video.

Life in Jacarezinho is not easy. People who live there leave home for work before the sun comes up and return exhausted on overcrowded buses and trains. Trash collection is insufficient. No public social activities or entertainment services are offered. The Youth Reference Center, the only social service the state provided, has since been commandeered as a police base.

When the police carry out operations, schools and clinics are forced to close their doors. The people try to hide as best they can, but the shootouts do not have a planned time or place.

Despite the problems, the people of Jacarezinho resist. There is hope at the end of the day. When a protest demanding peace happens in a police-occupied favela and ends without a single instance of violence, it is cause for much celebration.

After five days without sleep, the favela finally had a brief period of calm. The next day, however, the gunfire started again and two more residents were killed.

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