May 20, 2022

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Fear reigns in Brazil favela a year after bloody raid

Fear reigns in Brazil favela a year after bloody raid

One year after 28 people were killed in the bloodiest police raid in Rio de Janeiro history, the tension is still palpable in the Jacarezinho slum, where authorities have deployed a massive law enforcement operation.

Brazil marked the first anniversary Friday of the early-morning raid against alleged drug traffickers that turned the impoverished favela into a battlefield, with explosions and heavy gunfire that left streets strewn with bodies.

Residents of Jacarezinho, a slum of brick and tin-roof houses on Rio’s north side that is home to 80,000 people, have accused the police of killing innocent victims in cold blood.

Seeking to calm an explosive situation, the state government in January launched a program called “Cidade Integrada” (Integrated City), aiming to “reclaim the territory” dominated by drug traffickers and to set up social projects to improve life in the favela.

But many residents say the heavy police presence only makes them more afraid.

“Everyone’s scared. Having the police here all the time doesn’t make us feel safer — on the contrary,” said “Vera,” a 31-year-old shopkeeper who was afraid to provide her real name.

Two armored police vehicles were posted near her shop.

Heavily armed officers regularly patrol the slum’s tangled maze of narrow streets, and passersby typically avoid making eye contact.

“Since ‘Integrated City’ started, shootouts are an almost daily occurrence, with no warning,” said Pedro Paulo da Silva of local community organization LabJaca.

“Police see (the favelas) as enemy territory,” he said. “Everyone is a potential target.”

‘Anxiety attacks’
The tension erupted into the open the night of April 25, when police shot and killed an 18-year-old man, the father of a four-month-old baby.

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His mother called the killing a “summary execution.”

Residents poured into the streets in protest, lighting fires to block entrances to the favela.

Police say they have opened an internal investigation.

Many residents say just seeing officers on patrol brings back dark memories of May 6, 2021 and the terrifying raid that left one policeman and 27 alleged suspects dead.

Scores of protesters on Friday marked the anniversary, marching to the favela’s memorial to the dead, a small blue wall with plaques bearing their names.

“Police are murderers!” they chanted as two heavily armed officers watched.

“There’s a feeling of sadness, but above all of injustice. A lot of others have died since. And it’s not going to stop,” said 19-year-old Taciana Barbosa, who had two childhood friends killed in the raid.

Despite international calls for an independent inquiry, including from the United Nations, just two officers have been indicted and two more were placed under investigation for the Jacarezinho killings.

“As long as no one is brought to justice, people’s contact with law enforcement agents will still be very affected by that trauma,” said Guilherme Pimentel, the ombudsman for the Rio public defender’s office.

There have been glaring reports of abuses by police stationed in the favela, including invading residents’ homes and stealing from them.

“I came home one day and found my door open. They turned the whole place upside down. They must have had dogs, because I found poop on the floor. They come looking to steal our valuables. I didn’t have any,” said 39-year-old resident Thiago Baia, who heads a local cultural association.

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“I’ve been afraid ever since. I get anxiety attacks when I try to sleep.”

ID cards and Zumba
The state government says it has inaugurated several social projects as part of Integrated City, including a job training program for mothers that has 1,400 participants.

The authorities have also started gymnastics and Zumba classes, and opened a public registrar’s office that has allowed many residents to obtain “their first-ever ID cards,” according to Governor Claudio Castro.

Not everyone is convinced.

“The job-training courses have started, but we haven’t seen any of the rest,” said Da Silva.

“It’s the same problem every time they launch a new program: they never actually talk with the people who live here.”