The public safety agenda

Image: Kendall Hoopes


The sore point is the anti-racist renegotiation. Only she will have the strength to dissolve the anti-democratic enclave that encapsulated the police

Brazil needs deep and urgent changes, but any progressive candidacy that tries to defeat Bolsonarist neo-fascism will need to form a coalition with conservative forces, around a centrist project of democratic reconstruction. The situation is so dramatic and the country has regressed so much that the victory of the moderate coalition will be celebrated as the triumph of life over death.

In this context, how should public security be guided?, considering that: (i) topical and incremental reforms did not produce consistent effects, either because of their insufficiency or because they were discontinued; (ii) institutional reforms of a constitutional nature, although essential, were not even voted on by Congress, such as the resistance they give rise to; (iii) the next government, even anti-fascist and socially sensitive, will have to accommodate alliances so broad that it will be prevented from promoting transformations where conservative reactions threaten the political coalition.

However, if state violence is not contained, there will be no future for democracy. The following proposals are addressed to the future government, not to the campaign, whose logic requires a specific strategy. The goal is to avoid repeated and naturalized disrespect for the Constitution. Therefore, it should be common to socialists, liberals and conservatives. Today, for poor and black people, legality is a utopia.

There are, on average, 50 intentional homicides per year (more than 70% black and poor men); seven thousand deaths caused by police actions (the vast majority of victims are black and poor), especially in the context of the so-called war on drugs; little elucidation of lethal crimes (almost none, when the perpetrators are police - impunity has the tacit complicity of the Public Ministry); mass incarceration (mainly young black people, poor, not armed and not involved in criminal organizations, who work in the small retail of illicit substances); Most arrests are made in flagrante delicto. There are around 700 prisoners, almost 40% for drug trafficking (62% among women).

As the Penal Execution Law is not complied with, criminal factions dominate the penitentiaries, forcing prisoners to negotiate survival in exchange for engagement after serving their sentence. In other words, we are contracting future violence: strengthening factions at the price of destroying generations of non-violent youth and their families. What is verified, in short, is that a perverse dynamic is underway that has become autonomous. It derives from the combination of drug law, mass incarceration, disobedience to the LEP and the police model inherited from the dictatorship.

The deleterious effects of this amalgamation were aggravated by the government policy that made access to weapons and ammunition more flexible, and reduced their traceability, as well as by the transnational rise of the ultra-right, adept at militarizing security.

Of course, public security is not limited to police, prisons, prohibitionism and punitivism. No matter how good our laws and institutions were (and there are good proposals to reform laws and police, such as PEC51), it would not make sense to expect less violence and crime if society has been degraded in unemployment, informality, school dropout and discouragement, under a predatory neoliberal program that deepens inequalities and intensifies the atavistic Brazilian racist patriarchy.

Therefore, consistent changes in security would obviously depend on much more comprehensive transformations. However, the latter would not be enough either, precisely because the perverse dynamics described above managed to become autonomous.

It would be wrong to transfer to the Brazilian case the analysis formulated for other societies, in whose terms the aforementioned factors would articulate to form a functional unit, in the service of the interests of the dominant classes and the stabilization of neoliberalism: while the market is kept “free” – under state tutelage, evidently – and social rights are dilapidated, the mass expelled from the labor market, excluded from the benefits of the Welfare and potentially subversive, is faced with the threat of imprisonment.

If that were the case, what I called perverse dynamics – mobilizing police, legal, criminal and legislative mechanisms – would be nothing more than a functional structure, perfectly rational for the hegemonic interests. However, Brazilian data discredit this conclusion. This dynamic intensified while the country achieved full employment, reduced poverty and faced inequalities.

The machine that imprisons, humiliates, attacks and kills poor and black people (not infrequently, also violating the rights of the police themselves) has proved to be ineffective for capitalist interests (except for private security and arms industry entrepreneurs). Even so, it continued to spin, increasing collective insecurity and hollowing out economic activity, while promoting the genocide of poor black youth.

The Brazilian police-penal savagery is not indispensable to capitalism, nor to the political stability of its domain, on the contrary, it makes its reproduction difficult and spreads tensions and social fractures. However, the elites accommodate themselves to this reality, because, consciously or unconsciously, archaic hatred, patrimonialist revulsion against manual workers and atavistic racism prevail, legacies of three centuries of slavery, in the wake of the extermination of so many original peoples. In addition, the ultra-right and opportunist demagogues take advantage of insecurity and parasitize violence, because they feed on fear and hatred.


The fantasy of control and the myth of hyperfunctionalism

The following thesis frequently appears in introductory sociology textbooks and sounds trivial, although perhaps counterintuitive to many: “Not everything that exists in social life exists according to a will and an interest” – although in most cases it does. There are phenomena that are aggregation effects -the so-called perverse effects of social action- or result from miscalculations, tactical mistakes or strategic mistakes, whether in the choice of methods or in the identification of their own interests on the part of individuals, groups and organizations.

Expanding the scope of the thesis, it would be said that not everything works in society, not the laws, nor the more or less stable institutions, nor the arrangements that are ordered and undone, successively. Not all devices fulfill intended functions or meet the interests that prompted their creation. In the process of their existence, they are the target of rationalizations and redefinitions, and are the object of disputes both for their direction and for the appropriation of the energy they precipitate or the benefits and harms they produce – let us remember the spoiling power, which can be devastating and unbalance political and economic games. The harm also gives rise to resistance.

Take, for example, a statement that sounds trivial: “Police exist to control society and control is in the interest of the established power”. Would this really be the case under the conditions prevailing in our country? Is there control? Which actors over which others or which actions? In what contexts, in what form, to what degree? What do we mean by control, exactly? Under such a category, control, wouldn't there be a plurality of different and contradictory situations, generating different effects, themselves contradictory?

Is eventual control, circumscribed in time and space, followed by the stabilization of something that could be called order or by instability and something very different from that order, idealized or not? A police operation in a favela, within the scope of the “war on drugs”, leaving behind a trail of blood and indignation, fertilizes the emergence of what kind of order? Lega the next day what situation? What would the word control describe? What implications does police repression entail? What about mass incarceration?

The police and criminal policies (punitive and prohibitionist) do not exercise any significant control, they have not exercised any social control, they do not even control criminal dynamics. On the contrary, they increase unpredictability and, therefore, insecurity, and implode the State's control mechanisms over its armed arms. In addition, they have strengthened criminal factions and spread hatred and despair.

What is controlled? Make no mistake: what was repressed is not under control and will return (has returned), traumatically, to haunt any desire for democratic appeasement. Bolsonaro is the name of this traumatic complex.

Bolsonarist messianism is not a Sebastianism, it is just the anxious anticipation of catastrophe, the (self-fulfilling) prophecy of chaos and death, the premonition of terminal lack of control to which one reacts with extreme violence, thus causing the dreaded outcome. This fascist-tinged autoimmune dynamic was already inoculated into police cultures when they were received, uncritically, in the political transition.



As absurd as it may seem, the phenomenon of inertial reproduction of the same violating police practices, indifferent to the evidence of their negative effects, as if it were an addiction, deserves a definition as exorbitant as its persistence is scandalous. I suggest thinking of and treating it as “repetition compulsion, rationalized by the institutional discourse. Compulsion to repeat small violations and large violent acts, setting in motion a performative language whose role is to address the abjection of the Other – this Other, in Brazil, is the black population and, secondarily, the poor, gathered in the stigmatized territory.

Addressed abjection identifies, isolates and exorcises evil – even authorizing extrajudicial executions – for the benefit of “good citizens”. Not by chance, the colonel who commanded the PM in the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro declared, in 2008, that the police are a “social insecticide”.

The hygienist vocabulary confesses what the official discourse covers up. The fact that there was no rupture in public security institutions, during the process of political transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, allowed the values ​​and behaviors that the police cultivated in the military regime to persist, especially their understanding that it would be up to them to play a leading role the struggle of good against evil.

The war on drugs, oblivious to results (accumulates costs, deaths, corruption, promotes militias and does not reduce consumption), mirrors the psychic and practical plot against which it is projected and which would supposedly justify its existence: addiction.

If the unusual diagnosis makes sense, I suggest that the future government's agenda include the celebration of an anti-racist pact in national life, focusing on the sphere of security - and nothing more faithful to the letter of the Constitution, which would prevent liberals and loyalist conservatives to oppose.

The government would convene social movements and establish as a political priority the end of race and class bias in police actions and in the performance of criminal justice. Even if you don't have the substantive means to reach the goal, the proclamation of the goal would have in itself an indisputable power and would set in motion a new dynamic. What I propose is a political gesture.

The government elected for the reconstruction of democracy would convene anti-racist movements across the country and negotiate the formation of popular regional and local nuclei to propose, monitor and evaluate the implementation, initially experimental, of practical and immediate measures (which may vary between States).

It is not, therefore, a question of repeating the traditional conferences doomed to failure by their very composition. At the same time, it would open a special line of credit for the states to strengthen the Public Defender's Offices, which cannot be inferior to the Public Ministry in any respect.

While setting in motion this experimental political process with society, and while acting to reduce environmental devastation, attacks on indigenous peoples, misery, unemployment, uberization and discouragement, the government would concentrate repressive and investigative investments in weapons, severely restricting their circulation and shifting the focus of military incursions in vulnerable areas to the interception of arms trafficking.

At the same time, it would agree with state governments to universalize the use of cameras in police uniforms and would direct the creation of a federal police education council, as a state body, not a government body.

The sore point is the anti-racist renegotiation. Only it will have the strength to dissolve the anti-democratic enclave that encapsulated the police, making them refractory to political and civil power. It alone will extend the democratic transition to criminal justice, so far precarious and incomplete. The impacts on all social issues would be profound and positive.

* Luiz Eduardo Soares he was national secretary of public security (2003). Author, among other books, of Demilitarize – Public security and human rights (Boitempo).

Originally published on GGN newspaper.


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