By C.H. Gardiner
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s homicide police are investigating the killing of eight alleged drug traffickers during an operation in Maré, a densely packed favela complex in Rio’s North Zone.
The Intercept Brazil reported there are witnesses saying at least four of the men had surrendered, but that the police killed them anyway. This case mirrors similar claims by family members of thirteen alleged traffickers killed in Rio’s Fallet favela earlier this year, which the Civil Police are investigating for signs of illegal killing.
The May 6th operation was conducted by the Civil Police’s special operations unit, known as CORE. Police said that the goal was to capture drug trafficker Thomaz Jhayson Viera Gomes, known as 3N, who is the head of the Complexo do Salgueiro favela in São Gonçalo.
Armored trucks and a helicopter operated in the area in support of the operation. The police recovered seven rifles, fourteen grenades and three pistols, and made three arrests, including Gomes’s wife.
Police state that the eight men killed during the operation were all associated with drug traffic and worked as protection security.
Human rights defenders allege that the operation posed an undue risk to civilians. They say the use of a helicopter is particularly dangerous due to the possibility of bullets hitting innocent bystanders.
Following complaints from residents, the Public Defender’s office is investigating whether the helicopter violated a court order which prevents the crew from firing in bursts.
Due to the perceived risk of bullets from the air, some schools in the Maré favela have placed signs on their rooftops warning, “School, don’t shoot.” Images shared on social media during the operation show kids sitting in an inner hallway to reduce the risk from gunfire.
Governor Wilson Witzel has been a strong proponent of the use of lethal force against drug traffickers, and stood behind the actions of the police in Maré.
In an interview with Brazilian paper O Globo, the governor stated “If you complain about the actions of the police, then it is better not to have any police.”
During Witzel’s election campaign he stated that he wanted to start using snipers to target drug traffickers, something that the governor later said he has put into action.
The president of Rio’s Human Right’s Commission, Renata Souza of the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), denounced Witzel to the United Nations a day after the operation in Maré.
Souza claims that Witzel’s approach to public security is “more and more militarized, with the use of drones, helicopters, armored cars and snipers.”
Rio’s Civil Police investigating the eight deaths said that there were signs of conflict, indicating the men were killed in a shootout with authorities.