The Skull opens and the Bull vaults into São Carlos. The other CORE cops file out behind him and secure a small square, their eyes scanning the rooftops. Following Oliveira, they slip through an alleyway and vanish into the favela. Shacks made of slag, tin, wood, and mud cover the hilly terrain. Rebar and drainage pipes poke from slanting concrete walls. The humidity intensifies the stench of excrement. Securing jagged corners and blind alleys, the cops move quickly, their radios chirping like birds.
They reach a hilltop strewn with garbage, and Oliveira takes a breather, sweat dripping off his nose. An old woman folds laundry on her porch. Children and young men walk by, heedless of the police. Graffiti on a nearby wall reads I don’t know. I didn’t see. I’m not a snitch. Let me go.
Five shots erupt down a nearby hill, then several more. Oliveira rushes toward the sound and the other cops follow, navigating steep, crumbling stairways between houses. The snitch was right. Four suspects are holed up in a shack, trading shots with another police squad. The helicopter gunners open fire, and so does Oliveira, his big bullets shredding the shack’s thin walls. The cops unload more than 100 rounds. From inside the house, a man yells in pain. In the chaos, the suspects bolt out the shack’s back door and scatter through the shanty labyrinth, trailing blood.
Oliveira and his men chase two of them to the bottom of the hill, where a paved road marks the boundary of São Carlos. But the suspects have vanished. At a nearby gas station, a man gives Oliveira a lead: he saw a kid hobble down the hillside on a wounded leg, then jump into a taxi. Later that afternoon, CORE will arrest the suspect, nicknamed D2, at a local hospital. In total, they will arrest six traffickers, kill two, and seize a stash of guns, ammo, and narcotics.
The cops guzzle water in the shade of the gas station’s canopy. But the day isn’t done. Oliveira has hidden a small unit of men inside a shanty, waiting for the traffickers to reemerge after the shooting dies down. “Like Troy,” he says, smiling through his fatigue. “Instead of a horse, we use a house.”
Shots ring out from up the hill. Oliveira’s head jerks to attention. His eyes sparkle. He has new energy. “It seems to be music,” he says.
The shooting intensifies. The ruse has worked. The cops pile into the Skull and race back up the São Carlos slope. In a few minutes, four of the cops who had hidden in the shanty walk toward us, each holding a corner of a bedsheet, bearing a limp body.
Along a dusty row of shops, the favela’s scattered residents look on, determining the identity of the dead.
*This piece originally identified bullets as .762-caliber, rather than 7.62-mm caliber. The article also stated that these bullets are illegal for traditional police use, which is misleading. In Brazil, only specialized units are trained to use them.