Authorities said the shootout began after police officers were shot at as they prepared to enter Vila Cruzeiro, a troubled community where leaders of an alleged criminal gang are suspected to have gathered.
In an official note released by its press office on Tuesday evening, Rio’s military police said that while the raid was “necessary,” it could not be considered a success given the loss of life.
“It is impossible to consider a successful operation resulting in death,” the statement said.
At a previous press conference, Rio de Janeiro’s military police secretary, Luis Enrique Marinho Pires, said the operation was prompted by “criminal migration” to an area where he said out-of-state drug traffickers live.
According to local activist Raul Santiago, after the raid, the people of Vila Cruzeiro gathered at the top of the hill where the shooting was taking place, looking for dead bodies. The raid also closed schools and health services, the city’s education minister said.
The raid came despite a June 2020 Brazilian Supreme Court ban on anti-drug operations in Rio de Janeiro’s densely populated slums, except under “absolutely exceptional” circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic. The regulation was designed to avoid additional strain on public health and humanitarian services.
The press service of the Getulio Vargas hospital told CNN that after the raid, 21 people arrived at the hospital dead, and six more were hospitalized with injuries.
Pires said the no-raiding ordinance has attracted alleged perpetrators to poor communities.
“Making this (community) your refuge is the result of a decision,” he said during a press conference.
Police raids in Rio de Janeiro regularly result in high death tolls, drawing sharp criticism from human rights activists.
A May 2022 study by researchers at Brazil’s Federal University of Fluminense (UFF) found that from 2007 to 2021, police raids in Rio de Janeiro resulted in three massacres, resulting in at least three deaths, in disadvantaged communities per month.
According to the FFU, a total of 2,374 people died during that period during police raids.
Tuesday’s raid was the second deadliest in the city’s history, according to UFF. The deadliest operation carried out by security forces in the Jacarezinho district of Rio de Janeiro in May 2021 killed 28 people, according to the university.