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Racism in Brazil’s Police Force

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic and graphic death at the hands of US police officers going viral through social media, protests erupted not only in the US but worldwide. Especially in countries that resonated with the outcry regarding racism and police brutality displayed in the United States. On July 23rd, 2020 an inter-American dialogue hosted a webinar titled, “Race and Policing in the US and Brazil” the cases of police violence as well as what the exposure of police brutality reveals about systemic racism in both countries. Speakers for this webinar ranges from US congresspeople to members from organizations such as Amnesty International to the program director of the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian-based think tank that focuses on emerging security and development issues. The speakers of the webinar note the startling similarities between both the United States and Brazil, particularly focusing on historical parallels of slavery and systemic racism found within both nations as well as the rapid trend towards the militarization of the police force occurring in American and Brazilian. The continuing thread of thought follows the mirrored perspectives perceived in both the US and Brazil such that of structural anti-blackness, implicit and explicit biases persistent in law enforcement. Denoting the denial of a racial bias, more specifically the claim made by many asserting that the discourse is not about blackness perpetuating a colorblind rhetoric.

Overwhelmingly, Brazil and the United States appear to be tied in the ways of systemic racism not only in the ignorance that bleeds into ‘colorblind’ excuses but also in terminology associated with blackness. For example, the webinar cited the Brazilian term “favela or favelado” as parallel to that of the US’s term “ghetto or urban” which are both used to discern blackness further expressing biased stereotypes for each nation. In Brazil specifically, the term marks the spaces as criminal and expendable and the people who reside in these areas as ‘killable.’

The rise of police violence within Brazil can be attributed to various factors. For one, past civilian and military regimes have relied on the police as a means to perpetuate continued social and political oppression. Working hand in hand with the history of control in Brazil, the police work to maintain the status of the upper-class, while the victims of police violence are, and continue to be, usually poor, black or mixed-race who fit the stereotypical ‘criminal.’ The duality emerging from this practice embodies not only the crime problem but the class conflict in Brazil. While the upper class feels relative safety by the actions of law enforcement, the lower class notices they are being treated disproportionately, further influencing criminal actions upon the upper class by the lower class which then empowers and justifies the abuse of authority by police. Other factors include the lack of consistent and uniform crime statistics in Brazil making it difficult to mark and understand the scale of police violence. Additionally, policing tactics vary significantly within the country depending on the wealth and race of the community. For example, in Rio de Janeiro 23% of total intentional killings were at the hand of a police officer whereas in Sao Paulo the number of police killings is 20%. The difference may only be a mere 3%, but that percentage statistically goes a long way when dealing with systemic racism and the denial of its influence.

With the significant and international influence of the Black Lives Matter Movement along with activist movements arising in Brazil, speakers of the webinar discuss these coinciding occurrences as an opportunity to exchange tactics to face the similar situations and struggles both Americans and Brazilians are facing. The problem of racism within authoritative positions is clearly an issue found both in the US and in Brazil, both situations becoming significantly exacerbated in the wake of two presidencies with similar sentiments regarding race, militarized police forces, and inaction or dismantling of gun controls within the country.

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