The use of violence – particularly state-sponsored violence is a part of the daily life of many Brazilians. This is especially true for those unfortunate enough to live in poverty, reside in a favela, or have “the wrong skin color”.
Indeed, the poor Black and brown individuals living in precarious conditions are often the most targeted targets of Brazilian police, a police force that seems to be determined to eradicate not poverty but rather the people who are poor.
In Brazil’s favelas, residents live in perpetual anxiety about “police operations” – or to be more precise shootings in indiscriminate fashion across the narrow streets that are populated by helicopters and guns that are automatic. They are aware that if a police officer comes up to them, no matter what they might or may have done, they may be threatened and beaten, detained or killed, or even “disappeared”. They are aware that their home could be invaded at any moment and their belongings were taken away and their lives turned upside-down and all with the full backing of the government of their country and other institutions of the state.
On the 24th of May, the death toll was 25 during a police raid at the Vila Cruzeiro Favela region in Rio de Janeiro. On the 21st day of July 2022, a second police operation claimed 18 lives in the Complexo do Alemao in the same state.
These murders were just one of many in a more extensive chain. According to research done by Federal Fluminense University researchers, 182 people were injured in at most 40 police-related incidents within Rio de Janeiro alone between May 2021 to May 2022.
These deadly actions have been backed by Brazil’s ultra-righteous President Jair Bolsonaro. The president often praises the bloody actions of police in favelas, and boasts that the majority of those killed were “criminals” and “thugs” who were “neutralized”. Of course, the activists and international groups insist that only a small proportion of the people who were killed during these actions have been issued arrest warrants for their names. Residents of favelas often speak about people who are “hunted down” by police and, at times, executed even after surrendering. In the eyes of Brazil’s Brazilian government, such particulars don’t seem to be of any importance.
However, Bolsonaro and his numerous supporters frequently attempt to defend the bloody and clearly illegal actions of Brazil’s police by saying that they fight aggressive, heavily armed, as well as dangerous criminals police do not always kill suspected drug dealers and criminals in street fights also.
For instance, on the same day of the deadly attack that took place in Vila Cruzeiro, federal highway patrol officers inflicted a fatal blow to one unarmed Black man named Genivaldo Jesus Santos inside the boot of their police vehicle in the State of Sergipe. The images captured by witnesses show officers clamping Santos to the ground, and then forcibly locking him into the rear of their police car as an ominous cloud of white smoke is released from the vehicle. The man who was handcuffed at 38 – said by his family to be having schizophrenia be heard screaming, and his legs, which protrude out of the car, kicked for a while before stopping moving.
There is no reason to believe that the massacres of police in favelas nor the murder of vulnerable and poor black Brazilians such as Santos by police officers are shocking or difficult to explain. Brazil.
In the United States, racialized police brutality is a natural consequence of a deeply rooted culture of criminalizing the poor and those in poverty. Together with the inability to properly train security forces and the reluctance of the authorities to admit the issue and the culture of criminalization make police officers willing and enthusiastic to commit acts of violence sanctioned by the state.
The training is not good and the ethos that you learn to be a street walker can encourage poor practices to be passed down from one generation to the next while on the job.” an officer from the police force, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of professional penalties I recently spoke to. The officer further said that criminals typically possess better weapons and equipment than the police. They claimed that this forces officers to be constantly concerned for their safety which can increase the risk that they have to deal with people in the community.
It is evident that they are under-trained and under-equipped, always in danger, Brazil’s police believe that they are in an unwinnable war they are able to win only through preemptive violence.
The absence of education or investment in police officers can only explain a small portion of the issue. The most important reason for why Brazilian police are operating as they are and seem to be waging an unending war on the poor is because the police were made to fight for the poor.
In the past, police forces were first established in Brazil like the police force within the United States – not to protect the public as we know it today, but rather to restrict, intimidate and control slaves.
Brazil’s first favelas were established during the late 19th century in Rio de Janeiro and they increased exponentially following the end of slavery. As time passed, people fleeing wars joined the slaves of the past along with their families in the communities. Then, similar favelas began to develop and spread to different parts of the nation. Police forces were able to guard the elite’s homes and lifestyles, and from the dangers of “plebs” from the very beginning, quickly focused their attention on favelas.
David Nemer, assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, wrote in his book Technology of the Oppressed: Inequity and the Digital Mundane in Favelas of Brazil that “prejudice has been documented since the beginning of hillside settlements [which] came to be seen as a place of dangerous and marginal people.”
The Brazilian elite has long seen the favela as an area that must control, as a space in which the poor are required to live and be monitored. Police, being protectors of the same elites were entrusted with the responsibility to ensure that the favelas were kept under control by imposing the use of violence, intimidation, and abuse. In words of Cecilia Oliveira, a journalist with a specialization in public security described to me “Police brutality is linked to many factors in the construction of Brazilian society and to the fact that Brazil has not cleared up its history: from slavery to dictatorship.”
In the present, the tradition of policing favelas – and, in general, the poor with violence persists mainly because of the lack of law enforcement to stop poor performance or violations by police officers. “The Public Prosecutor’s Office does not fulfill its function of overseeing police activity, the judiciary does not fulfill its function of protecting victims of abuse who resort to the courts, and the state government does not regulate its agents,” Oliveira declares. “It is a complete system that permits the police to operate as they are. People’s lives Black and poor people is an opportunity for those who offer cheap solutions to a complicated issue.”
The Brazilian police force is causing terror in the favelas and murdering vulnerable Black citizens at traffic stops due to what they were made to do, and also because they’re not educated, equipped, or encouraged to protect the community in any manner.
In Brazil, the bloody battle against vulnerable and poor people will never end until the ruling class is able to change the security system of the country and establish police forces that are ready and capable of truly safeguarding rather than terrorizing the people. With Bolsonaro and his followers in power, it’s likely that the police violence within the favelas is going to be on the rise in the near future, and we’ll witness numerous more police murders, similar to that of Santos.