The tragedy in Jacarezinho



Another police massacre or a macabre reactionary political articulation?

On May 06th, we were all (or almost all) stunned, dismayed and indignant with the news of the death of 25 people (including a policeman) as a result of police action in the Jacarezinho favela, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, RJ – subsequently, the number of people killed reached 28.

In the attempt to make an analysis of what happened, many writings were produced. In most of them, in a fully pertinent way, there was talk about the recurrence of police violence in the peripheries and favelas, about the genocide of the black population, as well as about the aspects pertinent to the social injustice that plagues us and from which several others feed. types of violence. Of course, there was also no lack of voices trying to justify the violence, such as that of the Vice President of the Republic, who, even without any evidence, stated that all those who died (except the policeman) were criminals. And others, even more unfortunate, who, making an apology for hatred, manifested themselves in the sense that “few died”.

The serious and socially committed explanations, all of them, are very important for a better understanding of the tragedy that occurred in Jacarezinho. In this light, the considerations are well summarized in the note published by the American Association of Jurists (AAJ-Rama Brasil): “Citizenship, democratic order and fundamental rights were once again cowardly and violently attacked. There is no right to kill and it is not up to the Police or anyone else to choose who should live and who should die. Faced with the historical path of exclusion, the challenges are immense for the complete and necessary reversal of the situation. What happened yesterday in Rio de Janeiro has nothing to do with tackling the social problem. In fact, the people killed in the Jacarezinho massacre were summarily executed, without the right to defense, without the right to life. The police action, moreover, violated an express court order contained in ADPF 635. The AAJ expresses its repudiation and urges the competent authorities and society in general to take all measures – which are not few – to stop the systematic attacks on the lives of millions of Brazilian men and women who, in extremely precarious conditions, live and try to survive on the outskirts of our cities, and it is also an emergency to determine the responsibilities for the slaughter and subject the actors to the legally prescribed penalties”.[I]

I think, however, that perhaps it is pertinent to go beyond the already traditional apprehensions to face what happened within the political context.

For this perspective of analysis, I use a study published in the main sociology journal in the United States, in 2016, in which the author, Joscha Legewie, statistically demonstrates that the momentary increase in police violence does not happen by chance and rather as a reaction – not exactly programmed, but emotionally stimulated – to relational factors.

The study, dealing with police violence in relation to the black population in the United States, points out that this violence is greatly intensified when a police officer is attacked by a black person, noting that the same reaction does not occur when the person attacking the police officer is a white person. The data reveal how the police forces move emotionally and in different ways in relation to certain portions of the population, even considering the urban region.[ii]

The situation portrayed in the study – it can be said – does not bring anything new, since, even without more improved statistical data, since it is not much of our analytical tradition to collect data on occurrences to better identify them, no one is given ignoring the most ostensive form of police action in the peripheries and favelas and in relation to black men and women in Brazil.

On the other hand, one must recognize the usefulness of the approach taken, in terms of demonstrating that, quite contrary to what has been defended, police actions can effectively be driven by emotion and, consequently, by motivations that can extrapolate the limits of the functional duty.

A deeper analysis of the police intervention in Jacarezinho, which resulted in the second largest massacre in the history of Rio de Janeiro,[iii] must therefore refuse the idea that everything was just a work of chance or that it was a random circumstance, a mere portrait of yet another chapter of historic police violence against black men and women and favela residents. This explains a lot, but it doesn't explain everything.

It seems to me extremely important to realize that the police action in Jacarezinho took place at a very specific historical moment and, therefore, one cannot rule out the view that the action was much more than one, among many, police massacres in the favelas. .

First, it is very important to point out that little is known about the action itself. Official news comes in a trickle and is often contradictory. The main allegation presented is that the action was promoted in the midst of an investigation into the enticement of children and adolescents by local drug trafficking. But, according to data gathered by the press, extracted from procedural consultation on the website of the Court of Justice of Rio de Janeiro, it was about 21 warrants indicated as “Association for Production and Trafficking and Related Conduct (Art. 35 – Law 11.343/ 06) C/C Increase in Penalty for Illicit Drug Trafficking (Art. 40 – Law 11.343/2006)”, whose complaint was made without judicial secrecy.[iv]

And, according to information disclosed by CNN-Brasil, in the Public Prosecutor's Office's complaint, filed by prosecutor Salvador Bemerguy against the 21 defendants, in case nº 0158323-03.2020.8.19.0001, which is being processed by the 19th Criminal Court of Rio de Janeiro, of which Originates Operation Exceptis, in the alligator, it is stated that the defendants are drug dealers and nothing is said about enticing children and adolescents, theft of cargo, assaults on pedestrians, homicides and hijacking of SuperVia trains, as is also stated in the official police version.[v]

What is concretely known is that of the 21 wanted, 3 were arrested, while the total number of deaths was 28 people. According to the police, the other 24 people killed (excluding the police officer), although they were not among those wanted, were drug dealers or reacted by attacking the police. There is, however, no proof of this and the fact is contested by the families of some of those who were killed.[vi] A report by Herculano Barreto Filho and Lola Ferreira, published on the UOL portal, points out that among the dead, only 4 were on the list of 21 wanted and less than half (12) had a criminal record linked to drug trafficking, including notes as a minor offender.

In any case, what the police had in their hands were arrest warrants relating to an investigation procedure and not an authorization for summary execution, which also did not cover ostensible weapons and invasion of homes, as reported by residents, in a report by The Intercept.[vii] And it should be noted that of the 28 dead, the bodies of 27 of them were removed from the site without any type of expertise.[viii]

The fact is that about the action itself, everything is purposefully nebulous. However, looking at the broader context of reality, things become a little clearer.

The first aspect that draws attention is the predisposition of a delegate linked to the operation to justify the action by criticizing “judicial activism” and the actions of activists and NGOs linked to Human Rights and the vision of ideological groups on criminality.[ix]

The impression remains that an attempt was made to construct a political fact so that discourses attacking critical thinking could be resumed, this because, in the face of the harmful effects of the pandemic, where they gain more and more space – even among liberals – the postulates more moderate views of the left around the need for State intervention in the economy and the introduction of coercive measures for the protection of life, conservatism has been cornered and without possibilities of a reaction, not least because with each new negationism greater is the number of deaths.

So, it makes logical sense to promote a social fact to reactivate discourses in favor of the Police State, the fight against crime, armed self-defense, class hatred and, consequently, the disqualification of people and entities that defend Human Rights.

It is also important to remember the siege that has formed around the federal government with the CPI of COVID-19 in the Federal Senate, having already generated the authentic act of despair reflected in the takeover of the streets by conservatism and reactionaryism in the last 1st of May.

In addition, there are strong suspicions of links between people linked to government structures and the militia in Rio de Janeiro. In this respect, as researcher José Cláudio Alves from UFRRJ explains,[X] one of the most distinguished scholars of the militia/organized crime theme, when the militia, which is traditionally the association between people in the structure of the State (mainly those linked to public security) and drug trafficking, becomes part of politics, reaching various spheres of power ( municipal, state and federal), community control disputes also acquire a purpose of constituting a niche of “voters” and the dissemination of an electoral propaganda discourse to those who are moved by the motto “a good bandit is banned dead”. .

In this context, recalls Professor José Cláudio, despite the decision handed down by the STF in ADPF 635, police operations, with deaths (more than 20, since January 11, 2021), were already taking place in the Baixada Fluminense region, more specifically in the complex of Roseiral, in the city of Belford Roxo, and in all of them, including the massacres, not very distant in time, that took place in Morro do Falet and in Complexo do Alemão and the one present in Jacarezinho, aimed at the dismantling of the Comando Vermelho faction, which it is the strongest, most structured and most reactive to the power that the “State” (both institutionalized and violent militia actions) tries to impose on communities, in order to open new spaces of control for the militias and not end violence or protect communities. “good people”. And he complements, stating that operations of this nature, in the history of Rio de Janeiro, have never been carried out in areas controlled by the militias and when a police operation is carried out, the acts are limited to arresting members and leaders, not reaching the point of extermination.

Thus, in the quest to identify a specific motivation for the Jacarezinho massacre, the hypothesis that the threats arising from the advance of critical discourse, contrary to conservatism and reactionaryism, with the real possibility of profound changes in the political organization, can make a lot of sense. also be behind the action in Jacarezinho, which could, therefore, be seen as an articulated reaction and, at the same time, a timely demonstration of power.

You see that, although it was said that the action was planned for 10 months, the fact itself that was presented as the one that was intended to be dismantled, that is, the enticement of children and adolescents, is, unfortunately, nothing new and has been widespread in all structural forms of trafficking. Engagement is not even restricted to poor and peripheral areas of the city. There was, therefore, no specific factor that could justify a police intervention with such explicit force, it is worth remembering that the issue of solicitation itself was not part of the complaint.

In addition, sending a large number of heavily armed police officers into the favela (it is reported that more than 200 agents were part of the operation) is, in itself, a constitutive element of the opportunity for the effect to be the one that was produced, even without any type of confrontation, not least because the reports are not exactly of a confrontation, but of a massacre, full of summary executions, which also removes the argument that the deaths were a coincidence or a demonstration that something went wrong in the execution of the action.

In this perspective of inserting the fact in a broader context, the massacre that took place in Jacarezinho gains a factor of extreme perversity, which is the admission of the death of people (especially the poor, slum dwellers, black men and women) to give survival to a project authoritarian policy, established from the dissemination of a new chaos (diverting the focus of the humanitarian crisis) and fear. In the name of security and the “reestablishment” of order – in a deliberately heightened disorder, favored by the weakening of democratic institutions – the way would have been opened for the consecration of the full Police State (militia, totalitarian and dictatorial), with suppression freedoms, guarantees and fundamental rights, leaving in the air the threat that new violence could occur at any time, affecting everything and everyone.

The hypothesis in question could even seem, in the eyes of many, a bit too cerebral, since it lacked characters who, making political use of the narrative, could give meaning to the plot. Behold, then, to undermine reticence, a character enters the scene and decrees: “…by treating traffickers who steal, kill and destroy families as victims, the media and the left equate them to the common, honest citizen, who respects the laws and the next." And, putting everything together and trimming edges, he concludes: “It is a serious offense to the people who have long been hostage to criminality. Congratulations to the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro!”[xi]

The other is made explicit when, shortly after the massacre, he “receives a survey” that measured his popularity, as reported in the column by journalist Mônica Bergamo, published on May 10 in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. According to the research, “a day before the police raid on the community, only 12% of the mentions about the governor were considered positive. On the day of the killing, the percentage jumped to 41%. Negative citations fell from 50% to 41%. And the neutral ones went from 38% to 18%”.[xii]

And the two, the day before the massacre, met in person, for an hour, at the headquarters of the government of Rio de Janeiro, to discuss “possible partnerships for public works in the State and the strategy to combat the pandemic”.[xiii]

*Jorge Luiz Souto Maior is a professor of labor law at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among other books, of Moral damage in employment relationships (Studio editors).



[ii]. LEGEWIE, Joscha. Racial profiling and use of force in police stops: How local events trigger periods of increased discrimination. American Journal of Sociology, v. 122, no. 2, p. 379-424, 2016.












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