‘There Are Many More in the Woods!’ Say Favela Residents Following Massacre That Killed 23 #VoicesFromSocialMedia

Massacre by Police Left at Least 23 Dead and 7 Wounded

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So far, the Vila Cruzeiro Massacre in the favelas of Complexo da Penha has left 23 dead and at least 7 wounded. According to local sources, who will not be identified, the number could reach 30. On the morning of May 26, the Civil Police communicated there were 26 dead. However, around noon, the press began to report that, in fact, the number had dropped to 23. According to the Civil Police, this reduction is due to an error in the identification of three deaths that took place on the same day in other favelas, Juramento and Serrinha, and not in Vila Cruzeiro. This in itself says a lot about police contempt for residents, treated as indistinct from one another across public datasets.

Early on Monday May 23, at around 4am, shots were heard by residents of favelas and working-class condominiums in several territories near the Serra da Misericórdia massif, the largest wooded area in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone. On messaging app groups and social media, many asked: “Do you hear gunshots? Does anyone know if there’s a police operation going on?”

Thus began a police operation that brought together the Rio de Janeiro Military Police (PM), the Federal Highway Police (PRF) and the Federal Police (PF) which, by the end of the day, would be classified as the second most lethal in Rio de Janeiro’s history. Researchers and human rights organizations—Amnesty International, Global Justice and the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) among them—classified this police operation as a massacre, yet another in the history of Rio de Janeiro.

“Massacre is the technical term for the number of deaths in Vila Cruzeiro, but there are no words to describe the absurdity that happened today in Rio de Janeiro.” This is the evaluation of Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International in Brazil.

The first news of deaths in the police action began to circulate on WhatsApp groups and Twitter at 5:33am, along with the information that a resident had been hit by a stray bullet. Gabrielle Ferreira da Cunha was 41 years old, the mother of a 17-year-old, and was shot inside her home in Chatuba.

“Why did they do this to my beloved daughter?” Asks the mother of the resident killed in Penha. Hairdresser Gabrielle Ferreira da Cunha, 41, was shot in Chatuba during the joint operation of the PM and the PRF in Vila Cruzeiro.

Over the course of the day, the official death toll steadily rose. While police informed the press of the death of ten suspects and two injured at 6:37am, local sources already assured that the number was much higher: “almost 30.”

A resident of Complexo do Alemão, human rights defender and co-founder of the media collective Coletivo Papo Reto (Straight Talk Collective), Renata Trajano, reported on social media that she had to hide in the bathroom.

We’re in the safest place of our home, in the alley. The shots echo in our ears, and it hurts. Why don’t you move out? Because we can’t afford to and all we can do right now is be here. I don’t wish anyone what we go through in these territories.

The action that took place with 80 men from the Military Police’s Special Operations Battalion (BOPE), the PF and the PRF started in Complexo da Penha but spread to Complexo do Alemão due to a confrontation in the woods that separates the two favela complexes. Videos with images of bloodied people and corpses piled up in residents’ pickup trucks or in police vans, arriving at the Getúlio Vargas State Hospital, also located in Penha, began to circulate on various news portals and social media.

Carried like bags of garbage to the hospital, the bodies of the murdered people were transferred to stretchers by nurses who pleaded with those present to remain calm, while trying to be quick in their attempt to find any sign of life.

UPDATE – COMPLEXO DA PENHA: 24 people died during the police operation that took place in the community this Tuesday. According to exclusive information obtained by Voz, two people were dead upon arriving at the Alemão Urgent Care Center. 7 people were shot and are currently at the Getúlio Vargas State Hospital.

Whether there were actually 22 dead, as reported by newspaper Estadão at 7:51pm; 23, as published by Agência Ponte Jornalismo; or 24, as reported by the newspaper Voz das Comunidades at 3:33pm, no one could say for sure, as the operation would still go on for hours, along with the shootings and deaths. But according to residents who will not be identified for security reasons, “the answer lies in the woods.”

“There are many more in the woods! The main part of the operation happened in the woods. Who’s going in there to get them? Everyone’s scared. At most, families try to help and rescue. That’s when they’re able to! But there are still others… those who don’t have a voice. These deaths are invisible. These, no one’s going to count. They think we’re exaggerating. But from 3, it went up to 8, 11,12, 14… 18… 20… and now 24! It will get up to 30!” residents say.

#PenhaMassacre: 24 people dead


RioOnWatch received videos that show the impact of the police operation in Complexo da Penha. In one of them, residents were cooking over a firewood stove close to the woods and had to leave the pot over the fire to protect themselves from the shots. In others, relatives of injured—or dead—people walked along a dirt road through the woods looking for victims.

COMPLEXO DA PENHA Residents are going into the woods to pick up the bodies

There are reports that a well-known baker from the region, Carla Caroline da Silva, 18, was shot in the arm and stomach along with the moto-taxi driver who had been taking her to the upper part of the favela. Carla is hospitalized at the Getúlio Vargas Hospital, in police custody, arrested for allegedly, according to the police, being part of the drug traffic. The moto-taxi driver, whose name has not yet been released, died at the scene from rifle shots. Carla’s sister-in-law, Pricilla, said that the baker went to the forest in Serra da Misericórdia to look for the body of her brother, Carlos Henrique Pacheco da Silva, 23, who was murdered by the police during the operation. The Civil Police stated that its priority is now the identification of the bodies of those killed, and that investigations into these and other violations linked to the Vila Cruzeiro Massacre will begin at a later date. In the meantime, da Silva will remain in custody.

The Study Group on the New Illegalities at the Fluminense Federal University (Geni/UFF) repudiated the action stating that it is “unacceptable that in a democratic regime, an official action by the State can result in such a high number of fatalities.”

In a public statement, the group also denounced that: “between 2007 and 2021, there were 593 police massacres in the Greater Rio metropolitan area, in which 2,374 civilians and 19 police officers were killed. This year alone, 16 police massacres have taken place with 71 deaths, data that lead us to conclude that police massacres are the rule and not the exception in the state of Rio de Janeiro.”

Also with the objective of drawing attention from public authorities and bringing an end to the operation, 20 organizations and social movements shared a public statement defending human rights and the right to live in which they classify the public security strategy as a practice of genocide against the black and favela population.

“Through this public statement, we, the undersigned organizations and movements, address the Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the Rio de Janeiro Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Rio de Janeiro State Secretary of Military Police, the Rio de Janeiro Department of Federal Police, and the Rio de Janeiro Superintendence of Federal Highway Police demanding the immediate ceasefire and suspension of the joint operation in Vila Cruzeiro.”

In another passage, the 22 organizations and social movements that sign the statementamong them Amnesty International Brazil, Global Justice, the Marielle Franco Institute, Casa Fluminense, Right to Memory and Racial Justice Initiative, Observatório de Favelas, Coletivo Papo Reto, Favelas in the Struggle Movement and the National Network of Mothers and Relatives Victims of State Terrorismdenounced the possibility of the death toll resulting from the massacre being even higher.

“Organizations and movements have been receiving worrying reports from desperate family members seeking news about loved ones who are still missing. Reports suggest that bodies of victims and potentially wounded people can be found in the wooded area that separates Complexo da Penha from Complexo do Alemão, and that mothers and family members are mobilized to enter the place amid the shootout in a desperate attempt to locate their relatives.”

Human rights activists visited Vila Cruzeiro and the Getúlio Vargas Hospital.

We are at Vila Cruzeiro following yet another massacre in Rio. We had access to the body of a young man that exhibited knife wounds. Whoever killed him smeared a white powder (most likely cocaine) on his face. I don’t know if he was a criminal, but whoever killed him with this level of perversity certainly is.

Co-founder of the Coletivo Papo Reto, Thainã de Medeiros came across a body that showed evidence of torture, and recounted almost being shot by a police officer inside Complexo da Penha:

Today, I literally came three feet from getting shot. And it wouldn’t have been a stray bullet ’cause the BOPE officer stopped 15 feet away from me, aimed the rifle and took his shot. I was right next to the body of one of the people murdered in Vila Cruzeiro and he did that with the clear intent of terrorizing me.

According to the Military Police, Monday’s operation was carried out in conjunction with the Federal Highway Police and the Federal Police with the objective of locating and arresting criminal leaders who were allegedly hiding in the community, some hailing from other states such as Alagoas, Bahia and Pará. Authorities said that the arrests would take place outside the community, but that a garrison was “attacked by drug traffickers,” which led to an “emergency action” by the police in Vila Cruzeiro.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) issued a statement saying that it was notified in writing before the operation, as required by the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) ruling—the ADPF of the Favelas—that suspended police operations in Rio de Janeiro during the pandemic, barring all but exceptional cases. However, in light of the murders and other reports of rights violations that happened during the operation, the MPF opened an investigation to assess the practices of police officers, giving the police ten days to explain the operation’s high lethality. Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin, rapporteur of the ADPF of the Favelas, called the Attorney General of the Public Ministry of Rio de Janeiro, Luciano de Oliveira Mattos de Souza, to demonstrate his concern with the excessive use of deadly force by the police.

Police officers shooting at residents! It is serious and cruel that favela residents are treated as seen in this video, from yesterday’s Complexo da Penha Massacre.
This dirty, disgusting, terrorist security policy is made to kill the favelado. This has to end.
The Rio de Janeiro Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, that is following up on the developments of the operation that took place in Vila Cruzeiro, is going to demand answers about this completely violent and inappropriate behavior.
#PublicSecurity #HumanRights #Favela #FavelaLivesMatter

To the Sound of Gunshots…

The residents of Complexo da Penha were not the only ones to wake up to the sound of gunshots. There were police operations in several favelas in the North Zone and in Greater Rio’s Baixada Fluminense region. According to shootout monitoring platform Fogo Cruzado, the first shootout was recorded at 3:30am on May 24, setting “the tone for the rest of the day.”

In total, Fogo Cruzado mapped 15 shootings in Greater Rio including in Vila Isabel, Engenho de Dentro, Realengo, Complexo do Alemão, Vicente de Carvalho and Duque de Caxias. On Twitter, Voz das Comunidades community newspaper’s founder, Rene Silva, also drew attention to the various operations underway in the city.

And so Tuesday begins in Rio de Janeiro…

RioOnWatch also received reports from community leaders unable to carry out their work in several favelas due to police operations. In the Itacolomi community, in Ilha do Governador, a worker described regular interruptions:

“It gets really disruptive here in the community because the shootings don’t happen at any specific time. Children don’t go to school, we stop working… The police don’t respect anyone during these operations. They just barge into people’s houses. If there’s nobody home, they even steal money or other things… We can’t go door to door to deliver warm meals or do field research without a safe environment.”

The Favela in the Focus of Castro’s Re-election

Read the full coverage on Instagram @faferjoficial
“The scary part is when you realize that it is was all for nothing and that only the poor die.” @manobrown
Statement released by the Federation of Favelas of the State of Rio de Janeiro – FAFERJ

It is important to point out that the Jacarezinho Massacre, the most violent action in the history of public security in Rio de Janeiro, marked one year on May 6. Shortly after the murder of 28 in Jacarezinho last year, Governor Cláudio Castro announced the Integrated City public security program.

There were rumors going around the Internet that the government’s next step would be to install the action in Complexo da Penha as well. However, according to an investigation carried out by Voz das Comunidades, the news is false.

FAKE: Cláudio Castro DID NOT SAY that he is going to implement Integrated City in Complexo da Penha. Read more here:  https://t.co/V67yeY0PIC pic.twitter.com/U9MXJqogAP

Even so, in an article published on May 6, researcher Pedro Paulo da Silva, from the Network of Public Security Observatories and LabJaca, drew attention to how police exterminations such as the one perpetrated a year ago in Jacarezinho, have been making public security the focus of Cláudio Castro’s administration:

“The national and international notoriety given to the [Jacarezinho] police massacre, both for being the most lethal in the history of the state and for the brutality of the deaths, generated criticism of the Cláudio Castro administration—which only exists due to [previous governor’s] Wilson Witzel’s impeachment. His attempt at re-election in October this year makes Jacarezinho Castro’s ‘focus’ because the Jacarezinho Massacre is the most striking event to have occurred in the state in recent years.”

On the same day of the Complexo da Penha Massacre, Governor Cláudio Castro, who is a pre-candidate for reelection through the Liberal Party (PL), defended the police action in a sequence of seven tweets.

Original tweet: During today’s operation in Vila Cruzeiro, BOPE, Federal Police and Federal Highway Police agents confiscated rifles, pistols, grenades and drugs from dealers.
Second tweet: With this confiscation, how many shots will no longer be fired against the good citizens of Rio, against the police, against those who wish to lead a peaceful life?

The governor also stated that: “Whoever points a gun at the police is pointing a gun at society as a whole. This is something we will never tolerate. I fight for a Rio of peace. Every death is regrettable, but we all know that our responsibilities require us to be prepared for confrontation.” He added: “These evil people want to kill the future of Rio de Janeiro’s people. Outside the rule of law and order are barbarism and banditry. We will not allow anarchy in our state.”

President Jair Bolsonaro, who is also a pre-candidate for reelection through the same party as Rio’s governor, defended the police operation. In fact, he celebrated the massacre and congratulated the police teams.

Thiago Amparo, a columnist for newspaper Folha de São Paulo and a law professor at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, stressed that the legal term for these police actions is “extrajudicial execution” and not police operation. The lawyer believes it is important to highlight the illicit nature of the actions carried out by the police in Complexo da Penha, in Jacarezinho, and in many other favelas in Rio de Janeiro and across Brazil.

NOBODY can be executed by the police. It doesn’t matter whether you have a criminal record or not. Stop normalizing the police logic of imposing the death penalty under the preposterous justification of the existence of a criminal record. The technical term for this is extrajudicial execution/massacre.

Any police activity that kills 22 people is not a police operation, not in the legal sense—summary executions are illegal under any circumstance; not in a tactical sense—police are trained to use lethal force only as a last resort; not in a security sense. This is slaughter.

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