A deadly police raid in Rio de Janeiro on suspected drug traffickers on Friday morning drew crowds into the streets of a neighborhood under quarantine, provoking criticism from residents and activists.
According to a Reuters witness and media reports, heavily armed police entered Rio’s “favela” shantytown known as Complexo do Alemao and killed at least 10 people. Police said they came under grenade and gunfire attack, a common occurrence in areas controlled by drug gangs.
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When a Reuters photographer arrived shortly afterward, residents had carried five bodies to the entrance of the favela. Dozens of people, most of whom had no masks or any other protective equipment, were gathered in a tight intersection under a drizzle. Acquaintances and family members of the dead embraced and consoled one another.
“Social distancing? For who?” asked Fábio Felix, a left-wing lawmaker, on Twitter. “It's incredible that the lives of the poor aren't worth anything, even during a pandemic!”
Police said in a statement the incident would be reviewed by homicide detectives, following standard practice. The police said they came under heavy grenade and gunfire attack several times while in Complexo do Alemao, and recovered dozens of high-powered weapons. One police officer was injured.
Several residents complained that the government was offering little aid to contain the novel coronavirus, but was still engaging in violent police operations that risked spreading the virus through low-income communities.
The city of Rio had registered 1,509 deaths from the coronavirus and 11,264 confirmed cases by Thursday evening, according to municipal authorities, who say those figures are likely undercounting the outbreak due to a lack of testing.
Police violence has been rising rapidly in Brazil, where authorities including President Jair Bolsonaro have encouraged police to kill more. In violent Rio, police killed 1,810 people in 2019, the highest number since record keeping began in 1998.
“Within and outside the context of a pandemic, we demand that public security authorities respect human rights while policing,” the Brazilian office of Amnesty International said on Twitter.