Confronting police lethality involves the end of the “war on drugs”, demilitarization of the Military Police, more social control and transparency

“I always said to him a lot: Jhonny, we are black. So don’t run. Don’t run. We are black, from the favela. We will always have a heavier weight on our shoulders”. Jessica’s advice/plea on how her brother should handle police approaches reveals more than a bitter memory of his murder. It suggests a project of death surrounding the lives of young black Brazilians. After all, there is no stray bullet when it hits the target.

In the debates about the necessary changes in public security to face the high lethality of the police, the notion that it is necessary to implement immediate practical measures has been consolidating, after all, there is no time to waste when it comes to saving lives. However, for the results to be permanent, it is necessary to go further and attack the structural problems behind the violence.

Johnny ran and was shot in the back of his head because he was seen as a “killable” body, just like William, Marcone, Deyvison and Marcos Laurindo. The investigations contain the names of the police officers who shot each of them, but these crimes had been conceived even before the shooting, in a chain of institutional and social naturalization of violence that cannot be ignored and involves many actors, such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Judiciary and Legislature, federal and state governments, as well as the media.

“The police kill so much because in Brazil the institutions of control were conceived by society in a violent and authoritarian way, to such an extent that killing has always been an action available in the repertoire of the security forces”, analyzes Felipe Freitas, a researcher at the Center for Racial Justice at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo and a member of the Criminology Research Group at the State University of Feira de Santana, in the state of Bahia (UEFS).

For Freitas, racism plays a central role in legitimizing the selectivity of State action. “Racism provides the cognitive, psychic, social and political justification for police violence. In a sense, racism does not create police violence, but in Brazil it is what gives the moral justification for this violence to be what it is in terms of its extent (number of deaths) as well as its depth, and the structural dimension that this assumes in the work of several Brazilian police officers”.

and the end of the war on drugs

The so-called “war on drugs”, and its model of repression and punishment, has worked as an instrument of racial discourse to produce violence. In Brazil, the police act basically in the repression of the retail drug trade, repressing the most vulnerable groups in the commercialization chain. It is in this “war” that the police leave a trail of violence and death in the communities.

Law 11,343, of 2006, known as the drug law, became a negative landmark in this story. Initial expectations were that it would reduce the number of arrests and police violence, as possession for personal consumption was no longer punishable by detention, being replaced by a warning, community service or educational measure. The same law extended from three to five years the penalty in the case of possession for trafficking. It turns out that it was in the hands of the police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary to interpret what distinguishes possession for consumption from possession for trafficking. In practice, young black people caught with a small amount of drugs in the favelas are automatically associated with the faction operating in the territory, linking them to organized crime.

It is no coincidence that 32% of people incarcerated in the country are accused of crimes related to drug laws. When it comes to women, this percentage rises to 59%, according to the National Penitentiary Department (Depen). Most of them first-time offenders.

Thus, incarceration numbers have skyrocketed over the past two decades in Brazil. With over 800,000 prisoners, the country has the third largest prison population in the world. Although drug seizure records tripled from 2008 to 2015, according to a study by the Public Security Institute (Instituto de Segurança Pública – ISP) in Rio, the amounts collected were very small. The result is that we had more arrests, without the operations having a major impact on the drug market.

“This war is just for show. The major apprehensions made by state and federal police take place in operations without a single shot, result of collaborative investigations between the federal and state police. While the Military Police carry out operations and there is no drug apprehension. That is why this war on drugs is cynical and hypocritical: because when the police want to make an arrest, they do it without any type of victim.”, criticizes Pablo Nunes, coordinator of the Network of Security Observatories (Rede de Observatórios da Segurança) and deputy coordinator of the Center for Studies on Security and Citizenship (CESec).

Pablo’s words tragically illustrate what happened during the BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion) operation on November 9, 2020 in Itamaracá, state of Pernambuco, which resulted in Deyvison and his uncle Marcone being killed. An action allegedly against drug trafficking that did not result in dismantling of any gang. Furthermore, the versions of the military police about the events were questioned in the inquiry that investigated the operation and the two deaths, with the victims’ families contesting the uncle and nephew’s participation in the trafficking.

“Deep down, all this paraphernalia and this war apparatus against people who use drugs, against people who retail drugs, do not even scratch the edifice of the vast, billion-dollar transnational drug trade. That one remains untouched, protected and benefiting from the ban to increase its profits”, adds Felipe Freitas.

Even in the United States, the biggest investor in the “war on drugs” in the world, 15 states and the federal capital already allow the production and sale of marijuana for adult use. That has also been the case since 2013 in Uruguay and, since 2018, in Canada. Flexibility is already a reality in dozens of other countries and ranges from the decriminalization of the use of all drugs, as is the case of Portugal, to the policy of social tolerance for the consumption of some substances, as is the case of the Netherlands, Spain and Morocco.

Freitas defends the decriminalization of drugs with strong state regulation of this trade sector and, at the same time, the implementation of a health policy for the user and a social policy to deal with the problem of abusive use, which he recognizes as serious due to its social implications. “While they are illegal you keep the drugs unregulated, and that is the empire of profits and it is the empire of violence, because then what regulates this market are not the political decisions of society, but executions, aggressions and mutilations”.
Samira cites the example of the Civil Police action in the community of Jacarezinho, in May 2021, which killed 27 people,the most lethal in the entire history of Rio de Janeiro, and recalls the advance of the militarization of municipal guards throughout Brazil, some even with the acquisition of rifles and long weapons to deal with the protection of the cities’ heritage.

Demilitarization of the police
and society

One of the most important proposals put forward by civil society in the debate on police reform is that of demilitarization. According to the Constitution, the Military Police are auxiliary and reserve forces of the Army, with the State Governments being responsible for their “guidance and planning” as an ostensible police, without the prerogative to carry out investigations, which is the responsibility of the Civil Police in the states. In practice, the organizational model of the Military Police is “in the image and likeness” of the Army, with a very rigid hierarchical structure and a mentality of fighting the enemy rather than protecting the population.

The Constitutional Amendment Proposal (PEC) number 51, authored by Senator Lindenberg Farias (PT party), provides for the separation of the Military Police from the Army; the institution of the complete cycle for the polices, which would guarantee that all of them could carry out preventive, ostensible and criminal investigation work; and the creation of a single career for each police institution, guaranteeing a single entry point, contrary to what happens today in the Civil Police, with commissioners and agents, or in the Military Police, with soldiers and officers.

“This is a very complex debate. Certainly this excessive militarization of the police is one of the factors that explains the institutional violence that we see in the daily routine of police operations. On the other hand, we are talking about a militarization that is almost a militarization of life. It is no longer something exclusive to the Military Police institution”, analyzes Samira Bueno, executive director of the Brazilian Public Security Forum.

Photo: Roberto Parizotti/Fotos Publicas

The large police operations with numerous fatal victims are a reflection of this militarized model of acting of the security forces in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro is the best example of this modus operandi, which has already spread to several other states in the country, with military incursions using armored cars, helicopters and large-caliber weapons. Operations that transform the streets of communities into real battlefields and recall scenes from conventional wars of occupation, with unjustified aggression, arbitrary searches and home invasions without a warrant.

“We have to change the model of policing by operations, we have to extinguish the normalization of this expression as part of public safety. It is commonplace, whenever massacres happen, whenever executions are carried out by the police, they come from the scope of such police operations”, criticizes Felipe Freitas, for whom operations must be an exceptional practice, “so that we can remember three or four major police operations in a ten-year cycle, and say why they happened, but today we have five, six, ten operations a week.”

A model that is also reflected in the Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO) operations, when the Army is granted police power. Rio, again, is the reference, with the military intervention decreed in May 2018, during the government of President Michel Temer. At the time, Army soldiers fired more than 80 shots at a car in which a family was on their way to a baby shower.

Photo: Reprodução TV

Musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos, 46, was shot and killed. The waste picker Luciano, who tried to help the family, was shot and died 11 days later in hospital. The military’s allegation was that they were looking for the perpetrators of a robbery. Two and a half years later, eight soldiers were convicted of the crime with sentences ranging from 31 to 23 years in prison and expulsion from the Armed Forces. They remain free awaiting the judgment of the appeal.

The search for robbers was also the justification for the death of Jhonny, on August 5, 2020, in the community of Rio das Velhas, in Prazeres, in the city of Jaboatão. Like the musician Evaldo, he didn’t have any chance of defense. It all happened on the street, in full view of many people. In both cases, the versions of the police officers involved were challenged during investigations by the Civil Police and also by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Johnny’s family is still awaiting the defendants’ trial.

Demanding a new posture from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary

Impunity is precisely another central point of violence in Brazil. Surveys indicate that only 5 to 8% of homicides are solved in the country, while in most developed countries the police solve 70 to 90% of violent deaths. Figures in Brazilian states vary widely, but impunity prevails. Without clarification on intentional violent deaths, the effectiveness of interventions to reduce them, as well as effective measures to prevent them, is compromised.

This situation is even more serious when the one who pulled the trigger was a security agent. Researchers see leniency from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary when it comes to prosecuting and punishing police abuse and violence. A study by the Brazilian Public Security Forum showed that the Public Prosecutors’ Offices in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo asked the Justice to shelve nine out of ten cases of deaths caused by police in the capitals of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in 2016.

That year, the Public Prosecutor’s Office ruled on 316 cases of deaths by security agents in the cities of São Paulo (139) and Rio (177). In the capital of São Paulo, there were only 10 complaints against the police and 20 in Rio. The other complaints were shelved. Specialists in public security say that this situation is the result of the prosecutors’ omission and the lack of quality in police investigations. For them, the impunity of agents involved in such cases generates a vicious cycle with more deaths committed by agents.

“Punishment is essential. If you kill and nothing happens, if you will never be held accountable, the message conveyed is that of justice in your own hands. There are police officers who are not willing to pull the trigger. Most of them aren’t. But 1% is willing to do so, and that’s enough for us to have extremely high rates of police lethality,” says Samira.

For her, the justice system needs to provide answers, show that if the policeman acts illegally, he will lose his position, he will lose his pension, he will be arrested, so that he thinks twice before killing. “But that is something that hardly ever happens in Brazil, even among those sentenced for murder, many manage to maintain their position and retirement”, she informs.

“All this only happens because the Public Prosecutor’s Office is silent in relation to the external control of police activity. When 9 out of 10 cases are promptly shelved, it shows that the official discourse of these police officers, even though they often do not match the expertise, is accepted by the justice system as truth. The policeman has public faith and that is understood as the absolute truth. The police only continue to produce so many deaths because the justice system, both the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary, go there and ratify it”, criticizes Samira.

Such is also the opinion of Pablo Nunes: “What we know, and there are several examples that show this, is that the Public Prosecutor’s Office never fully embraced its constitutional task of guaranteeing control over police action. And when we do not have the Public Prosecutor’s Office that monitors, controls, investigates, denounces and, in a way, holds perpetrators of violations accountable, we have a scenario of impunity that feeds this process of violence”.

Felipe Freitas argues that there must be changes in the criminal procedural law to curb a series of illegalities practiced during the investigation, still within the scope of police investigations, and which are often disregarded, in the proper judicial phase of the process. “We need to end convictions based solely on police testimony. We need to completely abandon this idea of the excessive number of personal searches, of home invasions without a court order. That’s the notoriously common procedure of kicking people’s doors down. We have to carry out reforms both in legislation and in the interpretation of laws,” he says.

“If each of the demonstrably unlawful killings resulted in compensation for the victims’ families and these compensations came out of police budgets, would the command of those police officers be a little more concerned with controlling them? Because when it affects the pocket, things change. But this does not advance in Brazil”, states Samira.

Essa é também a opinião de Pablo Nunes, : “O que a gente sabe, e tem vários exemplos que mostram isso, é que o MP nunca abraçou de maneira completa essa sua tarefa constitucional de garantir o controle da ação policial. E quando a gente não tem o MP que acompanha, controla, investiga, denuncia e, de certa forma, responsabiliza autores de violações, temos um cenário de impunidade que alimenta esse processo de violência”.
In the United States, the death of George Floyd, in 2020, put pressure on the debate on police reform, with the impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement. Including proposals for defunding the police. Proposals like these have already been implemented in that country before. In the 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department was one of the biggest killers and, to stop that violence, a program was created in which, when the excessive and unnecessary use of force was proven, in addition to punishing the police officer, families were compensated with resources from the police budget.
An example of this is the 15-year struggle of the Mães de Maio, women whose children were murdered by state agents on the outskirts of Greater São Paulo, in 2006, during attacks promoted by police officers and members of a criminal faction that resulted in more than 500 dead. Only in 2018 did the Public Prosecutor’s Office file a lawsuit in which the admission that there was an articulated and organized criminal action was included as a claim. The action calls for psychological treatment for the victims’ mothers and families, individual and collective compensation for social damage, and the availability of the mothers’ version in videos and texts on State Government websites.

Photo: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Bruno believes that the policy of continually increasing the number of state police forces can exacerbate rather than reduce violence. “You’d better have a smaller, controlled police than a big, uncontrolled police. If you are not in a position to exercise control over these police officers, they will become part of the problem, because they will use their license, their badge, to make money in crime. Governing with the ability to exercise control over the police, knowing what is happening, is fundamental to political stability. This resumption of understanding of the role that politicians and governments have in exercising this control is fundamental”.

Political and institutional
control over the police

Security researchers say the big question to be answered is: who controls the police? That is a question that remains in the air as a result of the non-compliance with ADPF 635, of the Federal Supreme Court, which imposed limits on police operations in the peripheral communities of Rio de Janeiro and has been not complied with, as happened in the case of the mega operation by the Civil Police in Jacarezinho. If not even the Federal Supreme Court has the authority to put the police in line, who does?

Author of the bestseller “A República das Milícias: dos esquadrões da morte à era Bolsonaro” (“Militia Republic: from the death squads to the Bolsonaro era”) a book that won the Jabuti Literary Award 2022, journalist and political scientist Bruno Paes Manso, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Violence at USP, considers that the Police control is a political issue that needs to be addressed as a priority in the country. Talking about the challenges posed to the governors who will be elected in 2022 and take office in 2023, he draws attention to the constant increase in the number of homicides carried out by police officers.

The portrait of the advance of the militias in Rio gives the dimension of how the lack of control and punishment for the truculent actions of the police can serve as a gateway to the expansion of new forms of criminal organization. “The next step – and this happened in Rio de Janeiro – is to start using this freedom, this carte blanche to kill, to make money from crime, because it is a very great power that the police have to threaten, to defeat rivals, to impose fear and, if they kill, not be punished. The high number of homicides is the seed of the militias and is a symptom of the lack of control over the police”.

Body cameras
and images of violence

One of the most recent experiments aimed at controlling police violence on the spot is body cameras. Attached to military police uniforms, they were implemented by the government of São Paulo to reduce cases of police abuse and lethality. They meant a 36% reduction in the number of people killed by alleged clashes with security agents in 2021. In the 18 units that received the cameras, in the capital, on the coast and in the interior of the state, the drop reached 83% in the last seven months of last year, compared to the same period in 2020. In addition to São Paulo, the states of Santa Catarina, Rondônia and Rio de Janeiro began to progressively implement the program in 2021.

In Pernambuco, there was a forecast that the cameras attached to the uniforms of the military police would be incorporated in December, but the process was postponed to 2022. Initially, the perspective is that the police officers of the 17th Battalion, based in Paulista, in the Metropolitan Region of Recife, will receive the first body cameras. In addition to images, the cameras also record sounds and everything is stored in real time in the cloud. The Secretariat of Social Defense must define a center to receive the transmission in real time, possibly the Integrated Center of Social Defense Operations (Ciods), in the center of Recife.

The cameras would have been important for the investigation of the four cases reported in this special report, such as that of Marcos Laurindo, who died in his own home, in the presence of his father and mother, on May 17, 2013, in the community of Bola na Rede, Guabiraba, North Zone of Recife. The police claimed that the victim tried to rob the police car and that they pursued Marcos Laurindo, who was allegedly armed. Investigations did not support the version of the two police officers involved in his death.

Body cameras would also have been instrumental in shedding light on the circumstances and details of Viktor Kawan’s death, 17-year-old teenager shot dead by police officers from the 11th Battalion, in December 2021, in the Sítio dos Pintos neighborhood, north of Recife, and put to the test the version, denied by the family and witnesses, that it was a case of an exchange of fire. The police action was filmed by security cameras from neighboring houses, which recorded the sound of 11 shots, and justified the immediate removal of the two police officers from street operations.

The use of cameras was defended by the Brazilian Bar Association – Pernambuco Section (OAB-PE), in July, together with the SSD (Secretariat of Social Defense). Proposed by the entity’s Human Rights Commission, the measure was suggested shortly after the attack by Military Police on the peaceful demonstration against the Bolsonaro government, held on May 29, 2021, in the center of Recife, when the truculent action of the police blinded two people who passed by the place and did not even participate in the protest.

Photo: Hugo Muniz

Despite defending the use of body cameras, researcher Felipe de Freitas warns that the measure cannot be seen as a panacea that will solve the problem of police violence or impunity. For him, “seeing violence, viewing episodes of violence, has not been enough for the Judiciary to interrupt these practices or hold these practices accountable”.

Freitas cites the case of an 18-year-old black man who broke through a police roadblock, was arrested, handcuffed to a police motorcycle and dragged several meters in November 2021, in São Paulo, and the judge, at first, did not see torture and mistreatment in the scenes shown to her. It also recalls the case of Congolese immigrant Moise Kabahambe, 24, who had his beating to death recorded and even so, this did not speed up the process of police action in the investigation of the case. Which only happened days later when his murder was publicized on social media and had repercussions inside and outside Brazil.

“Seeing violence against black bodies in a racist society is not enough to stop these practices of violence. So there is no reason to believe that the use of body cameras will be this panacea, even though it seems very important to me. Because we have to increase the number of obstacles to the practice of police violence, but we also have to protect ourselves from a naive interpretation that cameras are the definitive solution”.

Data transparency
and public policies

A fundamental aspect to act in the fight against violence, including that practiced by State agents, in the short, medium and long term is the transparency of data in the area of public security. Data on the circumstances of the crimes, the territories where they took place, the profiles of victims and criminals are the feedstock for the diagnosis necessary for the formulation of public policies aimed at facing different forms of violence.

“A homicide reduction policy, for example, needs to consider that femicide has different characteristics from robbery, which has different characteristics from a homicide that results from a gang or faction fight. These three examples of crime need three very different policies for reducing lethal violence. One focused on domestic violence, another on robbery followed by death and another on organized criminal groups. They are three different scenarios. We don’t think about public security policy if we don’t have a good picture of what happens”, explains Samira.

One of the most important instruments for the work of researchers like Samira is the Law of Access to Information, which completed 10 years in 2021. It regulated the access to public information provided for in the Federal Constitution, creating mechanisms that allow any person, physical or legal, to request public information from municipal, state and federal bodies and entities. It is through the Law of Access to Information that the Brazilian Public Security Forum organizes and publishes the Yearbook of violence in Brazil, now in its 15th edition, requesting information directly from the Public Security Secretariats of the 26 states and the Federal District, and may even appeal to justice in the event of non-compliance by public bodies.

It was thanks to the law of access to information that the forum could do the survey of the information of the police lethality in each state, information the responsible state secretariats did not use to make available. “The debate has advanced a lot. Ten years ago, the debate on public safety was carried out exclusively with health information data. We couldn’t do that kind of reflection – look at the state, at lethality, and have a national picture, to know which police killed the most, how many they had killed the previous year. On the other hand, this runs a serious risk. Especially because 2022 is an election year and we know that the dispute is heavy and we expect our democracy to deal with all these attacks”, says Samira.

The risks to which the researcher refers come from the Bolsonaro government, which suspended the deadlines for responding to requests made via the Law of Access to Information and imposed 100-year secrecy in cases such as the administrative process against former minister Eduardo Pazuello for his participation in a political act. The action of the federal government has encouraged some state governments to retreat from their transparency policies, as is the case of the state of Goiás, where Governor Ronaldo Caiado (DEM party) determined the confidentiality of data on the number of police officers killed and deaths committed by the state police.

Photo: Veetmano/JCMazella

Death agenda: exclusion of illegality and arms liberalization

While researchers, civil society organizations and social movements are mobilizing to reduce state violence, with proposals for more control of police activity and an end to impunity, the Bolsonaro government is moving in the opposite direction. At the beginning of February 2022, the federal government sent the Brazilian parliament a list of 45 priority projects that are in progress. In the area of security, in addition to projects to increase sentences for a series of crimes and support for the draft law PL 6438, which expands the release of firearms and ammunition for hunters, shooters and collectors; the Civil House informed that it is preparing a proposal on the “legal back-up for police officers” in order to guarantee “greater legal support” to the police.

Since the beginning of his term, Bolsonaro has invested in the approval of the law on the exclusion of illegality, a device that would exempt security agents from punishment in case of deaths committed in conditions of “fear, surprise or violent emotion”. The Brazilian Penal Code, in its article 23, provides for the exclusion of illegality in three cases: strict compliance with a legal duty, in self-defense and in a state of necessity. Even so, according to the Federal Constitution, those who commit excesses can be punished.

The expansion of the exclusion of illegality was part of the anti-crime package presented by Sérgio Moro, then Minister of Justice, to the Brazilian Parliament in 2019, but was rejected in the final vote on the project. Moro’s proposal could render the single paragraph innocuous by allowing the judge to halve the sentence of the accused or even stop applying it if “the excess results from excusable fear, surprise or violent emotion”.

A government’s priorities for action provide clues about the values that underpin that government. Those values are very evident in the National Plan for Public Security and Social Defense 2021-2030 launched by the Bolsonaro administration, an update of the National Plan prepared by the President Michel Temer administration in 2018. The document reduced the priority objectives with specific strategic actions from 15 to 5: violent deaths; protection for public security professionals; robbery and theft of vehicles; the prison system; and disaster and accident prevention actions.

There is no mention of police lethality, which is no longer an indicator. Only information about the number of security professionals killed as a result of their activity, the victimization rate of public security professionals and the suicide rate of these professionals are considered.

“We will know precisely how many police officers die in Brazil. On the other hand, the number of people killed by the police will be unknown. It’s almost a statistical exclusion of illegality”, criticized Ricardo Moura, coordinator of the Ceará Security Observatory, in a text published in the newspaper O Povo. Ricardo explains that the item “Protection of public security professionals”, for example, comes right after “violent deaths” in a clear nod to one of the most loyal bases of political support for the president.

“Repressing organized crime, fighting the expansion of militias, reviewing drug policy, improving control and tracking of firearms, ammunition and explosives, articulating actions within the scope of municipal security management…None of these topics appear as a priority group in the document. When mentioned, they appear in a secondary way as a vestige of the “weakened” wording of the previous plan”, says Ricardo Moura. Although provided for by law, femicide is not mentioned. In its place, the expression “violent deaths of women” is used.

“It is frightening how in everything the government contributes to the production of violence, to increasing the exposure of needy communities to police and non-police violence and to reducing the role and performance of the State in guaranteeing the rights of the population. It is shocking how focused and objective the Bolsonaro government is in its crusade for the deconstruction of the social pact, celebrated in 1988 with the promulgation of the Federal Constitution. More than deconstructing the 1988 pact, it is throwing Brazil back into problems already overcome, centuries ago, but it is fundamentally a project to undo and weaken social relations and produce violence”, analyzes Felipe Freitas.

One of the most emblematic cases of this anti-civilization stance by the Bolsonaro government is the policy of easing access to firearms in the country. From 2018, the year of Bolsonaro’s election, until the end of 2021, new annual gun registrations with the Federal Police quadrupled, from 51,027 in 2018 to 204,314 last year. Firearms licensing registrations grew 57% in the Bolsonaro government: from 8,680 before inauguration to 13,667 in 2021.

In the three years of Bolsonaro’s administration, more than 30 decrees and normative acts were published in favor of weapons, according to data from the Atlas of Violence 2021, produced by IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research). The measures relax the rules for the possession of firearms. They expand purchase limits, lower taxes and make it possible to produce homemade ammunition. The Atlas states that the growth of the segment “may worsen the domestic violence scenario”. It says the increase may “provide even more lethal instruments to aggressors”.

Some of the president’s decrees and acts were suspended by the judiciary, but the judgment of the lawsuits by the Federal Supreme Court is paralyzed at the request of Minister Nunes Marques, appointed to the court by Bolsonaro. Minister Nunes Marques postponed the analysis of 12 of the 14 lawsuits. One of these lawsuits is a resolution that eliminates the tax on imports of pistols and revolvers. Even with the measure suspended, imports of those types of weapons have grown, having tripled since 2018, according to government platform ComexStat.

For Felipe Freitas, the Bolsonaro government’s weapons policy is unconstitutional because it violates what was socially agreed in the Disarmament Statute. “The Bolsonaro government has already revoked the spirit, so to speak, of what the parliament decided concerning the policy of production, trade and circulation of weapons, to the extent that, through decrees, that is, in a non-legislative way, it expanded the various forms of access to legal weapons in Brazil and with that it has fueled and is fueling the illegal arms market because in practice this market is all fueled by weapons that enter legally or by corruption”.

He argues that the research carried out on homicide in Brazil shows that the control of the circulation of weapons is one of the few elements that are directly related to the decrease in the number of violent deaths.

Hate speech and politicization
in the barracks

Another issue that worries Freitas and public security researchers in the country when it comes to the Bolsonaro government is the hate speech promoted by a public authority the size of the president, which works for many people as a kind of national call. As fragile or discredited as this president is, according to Freitas, pointing out that this is not exactly the case for Bolsonaro, who still has a relatively expressive popular support base, his speech has important political weight.

“Bolsonaro’s speech is an invitation to hate, to violence, to direct action. Bolsonaro managed to reorganize the extreme right into direct action, that is, he dismantled the state in this sense as well. He does not invite the extreme right to participate in democratic life, to participate in the public sphere, he invites the extreme right to take direct action”.

The hate speech of the president and other federal and state officials builds the context that would explain why, in the midst of a pandemic, while the number of homicides in general fell, deaths committed by police officers grew in Brazil. “You have a President of the Republic who is constantly vocalizing the expansion of this instrumentalization. Especially when we are talking about the Military Police, and the Military Police in Brazil produces most of these deaths in interventions, they are very sensitive to command. The idea of command and control is something very dear to the military hierarchy”, argues Samira.

The researcher lists the situations involving police lethality. There is the case where the police officer legitimately uses violence to protect himself, a third individual, a colleague or a civilian. He will use force because he has no other way of dealing with the situation, so this is provided for in the legislation, he will not be prosecuted for it. There is the case where the police officer uses excessive force illegitimately, but by mistake. He may have made a mistake for lack of training, because he was very nervous. It’s a mistake, but one that resulted in the death of a citizen. And there are cases in which the police officer will use force explicitly, blatantly illegal, because he thinks he can. Hate speech speaks directly to those police officers.

Pablo Nunes has seen the political landscape reinforcing a position of institutional violence since 2018. “We have politics leaning towards a police without reins, without control. Many states do not even have a public security plan and this is another factor for this police violence. When governments not only fail to send a clear signal that police violence will not be tolerated, but do the opposite and encourage police violence.”

That is what happened in October 2021 when the governor of the state of Minas Gerais, Romeu Zema (Novo party), congratulated on social media the joint operation of the Military Police and the Federal Highway Police that ended up with the death of 25 people. According to the police, the victims were members of a gang that was plotting the robbery of bank branches in the municipality of Varginha, in the southern region of that state.

“Governors play a very important role in determining guidelines for troops and commands. Here in Rio de Janeiro, for example, police lethality was removed from the indicators that must be reduced to guarantee bonuses and better positions and salaries. So they have an important political role that is unstable today because of the drastic and abrupt changes in the political context. The year 2018 is central for us to understand this”, argues Pablo.

Felipe Freitas considers the politicization of the military police to be a very serious element. The recent history of strikes in the Military Police is impressive. First, the 1997 strike in the state of Minas Gerais, which extended to 11 more states, then the 1998 and 2001 strikes in Pernambuco and other states, followed by riots, some local and others national, in 2004, 2007 , 2008, 2012, 2017 and, finally, in 2020, in the state of Ceará, when it even had the support of Sérgio Moro, then Minister of Justice in the Bolsonaro government.

“Inside these police strikes, there has always been a strong dissemination of far-right speeches, of proto-fascist speeches that circulated in the police at different times. They always circulated and appeared socially at those moments. But Bolsonaro raises the temperature of this debate and gives instruments for that to happen”, argues Freitas.

“Considering the electoral process, Bolsonaro tends to provoke radicalizations. Regardless of the outcome of the election, which I hope will be with Bolsonaro losing the election and the people returning to a democratic government in the country, this fight is far from being won because these social forces will continue to act socially with great strength, acting politically very strongly. And producing dramatic and lethal results like the ones we are seeing right now.”

Photo: Tânia Rego/Agência Brasil