independence and death, shout the police of Rio de Janeiro

Dora Longo Bahia, The police come, the police go, 2018 Acrylic on cracked laminated glass 50 x 80 cm


The police enclave is refractory to political authority and no governor has ever commanded (fully and effectively) the state police

The exact title of this article should be longer: The Rio de Janeiro police, through their spokesman, the governor, proclaim independence and declare that Rio de Janeiro becomes a territory free of constitutional limits. I explain.

The transition partially tutored by the military imposed restrictions on the constituent process and bequeathed us two articles (142 and 144), which are sarcophagi of our history: they mummified the armed forces and the police, such as they existed in the dictatorial regime, blocking the winds of changes that the emerging democracy was blowing. Result: two institutional enclaves were created, refractory to political, civil, republican authority. For this reason, the genocide of black youths and poor youths, in vulnerable territories, in the face of the accomplice inertia of the Public Ministry, the immobility of Justice, the endorsement of politicians -not just the right-wing ones-, the applause of sectors of the media and opinion public, and the consent of the other institutions, of which it is said, ironically, that “work”.   

Also for this reason, the mass incarceration of small retailers selling illicit substances, the result of the perverse marriage between our police model (the jabuticaba we offer to the world almanac of oddities) and the hypocritical and racist drug law. In the country without investigation, flagrante delicto reigns, the only way for the PMs to carry out (given that they are constitutionally prohibited from investigating) what they believe to be their main mission: to arrest. The great tool of ostensive police aimed at arresting people in the act is the drug law: fishing, evidently, boils down to small fish, retail operators. Nothing to do with organized crime and big transnational business, or with the despotic exercise of armed power over territories and communities. Most of these retailers are being arrested without carrying weapons, engaging in violence or showing organic ties to criminal organizations. 

The system in which the death machines, perpetrators of the bloodbath, are engaged (in the state of Rio, 20.791 people were killed by police actions, between 2003 and 2022, and less than 10% of homicides were punished), is even more perverse : given that the states do not comply with the Penal Execution Law and penitentiary units are dominated by criminal factions, the almost 40% of the 900 prisoners (63% among women) who are serving a sentence for trafficking or awaiting trial on this charge , need to rely, in order to survive, on the protection of the factions that run the prisons. The price will be paid after the return to freedom, in the form of loyalty and service. In other words, the country is contracting future violence and strengthening factions, at the cost of the lives of generations and their families. This is what the infamous war on drugs is producing, in addition to indescribable suffering for communities.

As the police enclave is refractory to political authority, no governor has ever commanded (fully and effectively) the state police, although the magnitude and implications of this impotence vary in space and time. The state of Rio de Janeiro reached the culmination of this process of unconstitutional autonomization of the police: the governor came to be commanded by the police. Not only does it act as its political buffer and corporate representative, justifying all the most brutal acts, even massacres, but it has now taken on an even more regrettable position: it has become a spokesman for police arrogance and self-sufficiency, confronting the decision of the Federal Supreme Court, within the scope of ADPF 635. Not satisfied with disobeying other judicial determinations, the special police units, BOPE (of the PM) and CORE (of the Civil Police, but militarized, also defying the Constitution), refuse to adopt the use of body cameras in favela operations. This is an important, albeit limited, device for reducing extrajudicial executions, as the São Paulo experience has demonstrated. And the governor was the emissary of this resistance.

It is essential for the future of what remains of democracy that we understand the following: what is at stake is not just the use or not of cameras by special police units; what is at stake is the preservation and increasingly armored reproduction of the institutional enclave, refractory to republican authority. If the political leadership has succumbed, in Rio, it is in the hands of the STF to promote republican authority, subjugating the police and breaking the enclave. Social movements have been engaged in this struggle for many years. With the governor's tacit declaration of war on the Judiciary -and minimally civilized common sense-, it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether, in addition to the Republic of Militias, Rio will also become the Republic of autonomous and independent police corporations, alien to the Constitution and free to deepen inequities and structural racism. 

* Luiz Eduardo Soares is an anthropologist, political scientist and writer. Former national secretary of public security. Author, among other books, of Brazil and its Double (However, 2019) and Within the Fierce Night; fascism in Brazil (Boitempo, 2020).

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