Local residents said the operation posed an undue risk to innocents and that at least some of the traffickers were killed after attempting to surrender to police.
Rio’s homicide department is investigating the killing of eight alleged traffickers during an operation in a densely packed neighborhood in Rio’s North zone.
The Intercept Brazil reported witnesses indicating at least four of the men had surrendered, but say that police killed them anyways. This case mirrors similar claims by family members of 13 alleged traffickers killed in Rio’s Fallet neighborhood earlier in the year, which the Civil Police are investigated for signs of extrajudicial killing.
The May 6 operation was conducted by the Civil Police’s special operation’s unit, the CORE. Police said that the goal was to capture the 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, 14 grenades, and three pistols and made three arrests including the wife of Gomes. Police state that the eight men killed during the operation were all associated with traffic and worked as security.
Human rights defenders allege that the operation posed an undue risk to civilians. They said 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 if 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 Maré 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 that “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, 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 a conflict, indicating the men were killed in a shootout with authorities.