Article: Rio de Janeiro, a city without justice

The most popular city in Brazil where violence is the law

Vivianne Chagas
4 min readFeb 1, 2022
Two police vehicles parked in a Rio de Janeiro favela
Residents live with constant police presence. (Photo by william f. santos on Unsplash)

It may seem cliché to talk about violence in Rio de Janeiro. However, the international community may not have the real notion of what is happening in this city now in pandemic times. The disorder promoted by the president of Brazil is such that other issues of serious importance are going unnoticed. The police continue killing and being killed unrestrainedly in the maverlous city. Direct combat actions continue to transform communities into war zones. In this article, I will bring you some data gathered by the organisation Fogo Cruzado in May 2021. In that month four slaughters were counted in the city — cases where three or more civilians were killed in the same situation.

The largest of the registered chacinas was undoubtedly in the Jacarezinho neighbourhood, which went down in history as the largest ever during a police operation in Rio de Janeiro on 6 May. The action ended with 28 dead and five wounded. In May, 480 shootings were recorded, second only to January, which saw 426 shootings, and February, with 381. So far the most violent months were March with 609 and April with 504 shootings.

The numbers hide people. Human lives that have no other alternative but to live with this war. There were 28 dead in two hours of police action. Many scenes of that bloody Thursday seemed taken from the film City of God, a portrait of life in Rio’s favelas that was a hit 20 years ago. The first victim was a police officer trying to remove barriers from the entrance to the community. From then there were hours of intense gunfire, with suspects fleeing through rooftops and alleys to save themselves and the dead officer’s colleagues raging, breaking into houses without a warrant. Shops did not open. The coronavirus vaccination office didn’t open either.

Any Jacarezinho resident old enough remembers many other shootings and many police operations, but none as bloody and brutal as this one. So many victims in one day caused a commotion in Rio, which is only surprised when stray bullets kill children because the violence of the war on drugs is daily. When the operation ended seven hours after the first death, there were dead bodies lying in alleys and rooms in various parts of the favela. The photos and videos of the corpses that circulated through apps showed several with shots to the head. Most, wearing shorts and slippers. The police took the corpses to the hospital, wrapped in sheets, changing the scenes of the deaths. Another routine. Faced with the denunciations of extrajudicial executions and the destruction of evidence, the UN immediately called for an independent investigation. The Public Prosecutor’s Office is already investigating the denunciations.

Figures show the escalation of violence.

Think about what the president of your country would say in this situation. Jair Bolsonaro, through his Twitter account, said “by treating as victims drug traffickers who steal, kill and destroy families, the media and the left equate them with ordinary, honest citizens who respect the law and their fellow man. It is a serious offence to the people who have long been held by criminality. Congratulations to the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro!”. In Bolsonaro’s Brazil there is no room for Justice to do its work. The suspect is summarily condemned. Of the 47,000 violent deaths in 2019, 13% occurred during police interventions, according to the most recent yearbook of the Brazilian Security Forum. And Rio stands out as the most lethal place for suspects.

In 54% of the shootings that occurred in May and that had the participation of some police unit, there were victims. Some of these victims were shot even though they were not directly involved in these shootings. The shootings with the presence of some security force resulted in six of the 12 stray bullet victims; in eight of the 13 people shot indoors; and in four of the five chacinas that ended in 36 of the 41 deaths in these events.

In the period January to May, there were 2,400 shootings/firearm-related incidents mapped by the Fogo Cruzado Institute in the Rio Metropolitan Region. In all, 999 people were shot (520 died and 479 were wounded). Compared to the same period in 2020, when 2,285 shootings left 947 people shot (467 dead and 480 wounded), in 2021 there was a 5% increase in the number of shootings and 11% in the number of deaths.

According to Maria Isabel Couto, PhD in sociology from the Institute of Social and Political Studies (IESP) of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and director of the Institute’s Programs, “the situation reflects the equivocation of public security policies in Rio de Janeiro, which, in the name of combating violence, should be guided by the preservation of life, but end up being one of the main reasons for violent deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro,” said the researcher in a statement to the Fogo Cruzado platform.



Vivianne Chagas

PhD candidate in Security and Strategy, Master in Political Science and International Relations, Journalist, and always looking for new stories.