Have the Military Police become more arrogant?

Michael Rothenstein, Violence II, c.1973–4.
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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

The savagery in uniform inside the Faculty of Law of Largo de São Francisco

1.

On Friday afternoon, May 24th, a terrible episode at the Faculty of Law of Largo de São Francisco hurt the spirit of those who love that school. Standing in front of the doors of the Great Hall, armed – and very comfortable – military police blocked the entry of students who were protesting against the governor's presence in the room. Inside the most solemn auditorium of the old Academy, the new attorney general of the State of São Paulo, Paulo Sérgio de Oliveira e Costa, took office.

In addition to the head of the São Paulo government, the ceremony brought together ministers from the Federal Supreme Court, the city's mayor and a number of other authorities. Outside, in the corridors, the youth who peacefully shouted slogans were shoved away. There are videos on highly credible news portals, such as G1. In the middle of the skirmish, a police officer reaches for his holster, as if he wants to draw his weapon. Teachers, in a test of courage and lucidity, positioned themselves as physical shields between the police contingent and the protesters. It was the way they found to protect their students.

A few days before, on May 21st, in another demonstration of insensitivity, police officers beat students who went to the Legislative Assembly to express their rejection of the government's project to create “civic-military” schools. The Bar Association, São Paulo section, pointed out a link between the two regrettable events and, in a public note, stated that this form of repression “reveals excessive use of force and, more than due to the isolated dimension of the episodes, concerns due to the potential for repetition and escalation, which can cause more serious situations.”

The concern is valid. How far will this “climb” take us? With this question in mind, I ask the unlikely reader for permission to reminisce. I'm going to tell you here what I experienced forty years ago.

2.

On the night of April 25, 1984, the Dante de Oliveira amendment, which would reestablish direct elections for president of the Republic, was defeated in the Chamber of Deputies, in Brasília. I was president of the XI de Agosto Academic Center. My colleagues and I followed the vote at a large rally in Praça da Sé. Someone on the platform listened to the votes on radio equipment and announced the numbers into the microphone. In 1984 there were no cell phones, no Internet, much less democracy – we were in the middle of a military dictatorship.

When the terrifying final score came, it was already too late. We called an immediate assembly in the Student Room, at the Faculty, which was full of students, students, people and police officers disguised as people. Also present were state deputy Clara Ant, from the Workers' Party, and José Dirceu, leader of the same party. The debates continued until around four in the morning, when we decided to hold a public event in Largo de São Francisco, in front of the college, the following day.

So it was. On the 26th, in the company of other speakers, I occupied the Free Tribune. Many people crowded around. Suddenly, the military police who had already surrounded Largo since early in the morning came up. Fights, screams, shocks. They arrested student Flavio Straus, who would be released a few hours later. I escaped. Two college employees rescued me in the middle of the rush, clearing a path through the masses of people who, chased by batons, sought shelter in the inner courtyard.

Determined and quick, the two took me to the first floor, where the vice-director, Alexandre Augusto de Castro Corrêa, was waiting for me. He wasn't a left-wing guy by any stretch of the imagination, quite the opposite, but he was waiting for me standing at the door of his office and ushered me in with Bolshevik alacrity. I stayed hidden behind the red velvet curtains. Of course, no police officer dared to go up there, but the school management gave their message: the police were not welcome there.

3.

This was the first lesson I learned in the aftermath of the defeat of the Dante de Oliveira Amendment. The second lesson came the other day, April 27th. The then Secretary of Public Security of the São Paulo government made an official visit to the school to declare himself against the excesses committed by his men. This secretary was Michel Temer. The governor was Franco Montoro. I had no party identity with any of them, but I recognized the value of the gesture contained in that visit. It was another message: in times of dictatorship, the São Paulo government sought to establish its commitment to democracy.

O jornal The State of S. Paul He still keeps a record of this visit today, his Historical Photo Gallery. I appear next to Michel Temer in photograph number 100. I look at him with the look of someone who was almost beaten by a soldier.

Today, the dictatorship no longer exists. However, the arrogance of the repression seems worse than in 1984. There is no evidence that the secretary apologized for the savagery in uniform. He should, but everyone knows he'll never do it. In times of democracy, the São Paulo government courts authoritarianism.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay: how we think about the idea that disorients us (and orients the digital world) (authentic). [https://amzn.to/3SytDKl]

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.


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