Operation Exceptis

Himesh Mehta's Image


Slaughter as a rule in Brazil

“The death certificate, the ancients know, / It came from the slave traders”.
(Conceição Evaristo, Death certificate).

Killing. Genocide. Carnage.

The bodies buried in the alleys, streets and alleys of Favela do Jacarezinho, in an operation carried out by the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro, on May 06, 2021, do not bear the marks of exception. Nor are they casual targets of a death-producing system that never ceases to demonstrate its effectiveness. Fallen to the ground, the bodies of the victims of the Jacarezinho massacre, perforated by rifle bullets, are the result of an epidemic policy of public (in)security, marked by high police lethality aimed at black and peripheral lives.

With no presumption of innocence, epidermally suspicious, police lethality reveals not only the virulence of the operation which, ironically, bears in its name the authorization to kill. The baptism of blood, which marks the inauguration of the current governor of Rio de Janeiro, Cláudio Castro, does not fail to reinforce the morbid pattern of racial relations in Brazil that, historically, has justified racism and anti-black genocide. This is a systematic pattern in carioca police incursions into favela territories, the success of which is gauged by the number of recorded deaths of suspects, when suspicion means safe conduct for murder, given the direct link between color and crime.

In order to analyze the complexity of the relationships between violence, public security necropolitics and the genocide of the black population in Brazil, it is necessary to examine the processes of racial stigmatization in the construction of the punitive State, as well as the political-legal implications arising from the warlike paradigm in the conflict management and crime control. The stigmatizing logic of criminal justice and State terrorism is embodied in the actions of agents and punitive agencies, in police lethality, in over-incarceration, in systematic practices of torture and violation of Human Rights, which inform a set of symbolic inter-institutional relations of annihilation through the presumption of criminality.

The summary death penalty and the practice of massacres, which have increased in the recent history of Rio de Janeiro, far from being framed as “collateral damage” of operations, are constitutive and rationalized parts of its modus operandi. This is because the price of security for some is crossfire as a way of life for many. The massacres would not, therefore, be casual consequences of isolated operations by state security agents, but a rational government technology, oriented towards black genocide.

The deadliest police operation in the history of Rio de Janeiro, with 29 people murdered – 28 civilians and 1 police officer – reveals the lethal potential of suspicion. With the aim of arresting those accused of enticing children and adolescents into drug trafficking in the community, 200 police officers were mobilized to carry out 21 arrest warrants against suspects in the crimes. Of these, “03 were completed and another 03 were killed”, according to a statement by the Civil Police at a press conference about Operation Exceptis. There was no formal retraction or official justification for the summary execution of the accused, corroborating the tone “a good bandit is a dead bandit”, which guides the lethal culture of the Brazilian police, in disrespect for constitutional precepts and international standards. At the time of the press conference, the Civil Police statement also highlighted the assumption of responsibility for the other 25 deaths of residents of the community, with no relation to the investigation that gave rise to the operation. Under the argument of protecting "good men", the Police reiterates that the operations will continue. And, we know, the slaughter too.

Summary executions, without guarantees of any rights, expose the fragility of democratic pacts in Brazil and its penal institutions. Or, perhaps, it should be said the democratic normality that, without exception, has guided public policies for the management of life and death in the peripheries of the country – with the approval of authoritarian and genocidal governments.

The allegations of the residents of Favela do Jacarezinho range from invasions of their homes and illegal seizures of cell phones to the execution of surrendered individuals. The list is extensive. And the intensity of the testimonies lays bare the virulence of the lethal logic that animates the Brazilian police forces. In the medical care bulletins of 5 of the 28 men murdered in the Jacarezinho Chacina, the identification of the victims is restricted to the reference “black man”, “black man II”, “black man III”, “brown man I” and “ brown man II”. The production of the racialized enemy, in this context, has operated in such a way as to legitimize the subjugation and summary murder of subjects marked by racist and criminalizing stereotypes.

In August 2020, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) endorsed the preliminary decision that prohibits police operations in favelas and communities in Rio de [1]January during the new coronavirus pandemic, within the scope of the Argument of Non-compliance with a Fundamental Precept, ADPF 635 – “ADPF das Favelas”. ADPF 635 aims at the elaboration of institutional policies for the reduction of police lethality and the control of human rights violations perpetrated by the Rio de Janeiro security forces, being announced by the Reporting Minister Edson Fachin as an opportunity to “change the culture of a state of affairs completely contrary to the Brazilian Constitution”[I]. In view of the preliminary decision, operations would be suspended, except in exceptional situations, whose justification in writing becomes essential, in addition to immediate communication to the Public Ministry and adoption of special protocols, which must also be identified in writing by the competent authority, to protection of the population, the provision of public health services and the performance of humanitarian aid activities. However, since the decision regarding ADPF 635, almost a thousand deaths committed by police officers have been recorded, according to data from the Public Security Institute (ISP).

The patent non-compliance with the preliminary decision of the STF by the Rio public security forces, in addition to implying non-compliance with the objective process, also results in corroboration of the affront to the precepts established in the social order by state acts. In this specific case, the repeated failure to comply with the injunction also seems to express outrage at the judicial function of guaranteeing individual, social and collective rights, as if there were no legitimate restriction that would prevent abuses in the exercise of power by the public security forces. The symbolic and polysemic nature of non-compliance was evident in the official statement by the Civil Police in the aforementioned press conference, when it underlined that it would not submit to the decisions of the STF: “From some time to now, due to some decisions, some judicial activism, which is seen today very latent in the social discussion, we were somehow impeded or minimally hindered by the police in some locations [...] Part of this activism, which somehow guides society in a certain direction, it is definitely not in side of the Civil Police and definitely not on the side of good society. Interests are diverse. […] whenever we have this tripod of intelligence, investigation and action, we will operate and that is exactly what happened today”.

It should also be highlighted the failure to preserve the crime scene and the lack of due diligence in carrying out the investigations by state agents, which violates the preliminary decision of the STF, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Minnesota Protocol, which provide about the need to preserve all evidence and traces from the crime scene. Failure to comply with legal prerogatives and violations of rights that point not to the lack of training of staff, but to the institutionalization of illegal practices, carried out without any embarrassment or fear of punishment. If “where there is no law, there is no crime”, by transforming the territory of the favelas into zones of exception to legality, the rule becomes the killing that has characterized police operations in Rio de Janeiro.

If the “threat to social peace” justifies summary execution and the whole range of violations perpetrated in Operation exceptions, the very understanding of “social peace” by public security agencies is questioned. Peace for whom? Why did the residents of Favela do Jacarezinho not see “social peace” restored after the incursion? Quite the contrary, the climate of terror and tension prevented displacements, modified routines, imposed daily reconfigurations that, for thousands of people who inhabit the territory, translate into systematic violence of rights, fear and mourning. In this context, the cause of death it is already registered in the certificate of habit: Brazilian institutional racism.

*Diego dos Santos Reis He is a professor at the Federal University of Paraíba and at the Graduate Program Humanities, Rights and Other Legitimacies at the University of São Paulo.

* Malu Stanchi She is the political coordinator of the Human Rights Observatory – Crisis and Covid-19. Specialist in Public Policies and Gender Justice by the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.


[I] Remarks by Minister Rapporteur Edson Fachin, at the Public Hearing of ADPF 635, on 16/04/2021. Available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf3x9u6QQ5Y.

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