Brazil's Supreme Court halts police raids in Rio's favelas during pandemic

FILE PHOTO: A general view of Coroa slum with the Christ the Redeemer statue in the background during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Brazilian Supreme Court minister on Friday prohibited police raids in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas during the novel coronavirus pandemic, as a groundswell of criticism of brutal police tactics grows in Latin America’s largest nation.

In the decision, Minister Edson Fachin forbid raids in favelas - as Brazil’s informal shantytowns are known - “except in absolutely exceptional cases,” which most be pre-approved by the state prosecutor’s office.

Rio’s police forces are notoriously violent, having killed over 1,800 people in 2019. Innocent bystanders are frequently caught in the crossfire and police are commonly accused of having a shoot-first, ask-questions-later attitude.

In May, police in Rio drew criticism for an operation in which a 14-year-old boy was killed, as well as another shootout in a coronavirus-stricken favela, which drew hundreds into the streets.

Protests in the United States over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in Minnesota have served as a catalyst to the protests in Brazil.

“It’s a historic decision,” said Congressman Alessandro Molon, whose PSB party filed the suit that resulted in the decision.

“Perhaps the most important victory is against institutional racism,” Molon said. “The Supreme Court has decided in favor of life and made clear that black lives matter.”

Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Leslie Adler