Police suicides in São Paulo

Image: David Brown


Tarcísio de Freitas's indifference towards the dozens of deaths resulting from police operations expands to indifference towards the deaths of police officers themselves by suicide

It is not news to scholars and researchers of the phenomenon of self-directed violence that the category of police officers, especially the military, is one of the most vulnerable to suicide. Among the known risk factors for this type of death in the military are easy access to firearms and the pressure imposed by working conditions.

However, in the current administration of the governor of the state of São Paulo (Tarcísio de Freitas) an important trend, which was previously silent, has been revealed explicitly: the rapprochement between the impulse to destroy others and the impulse to destroy oneself.

According to data revealed by Bridge Journalism,[I] the number of suicides by military police broke a record under the management of Tarcísio de Freitas. In 2023, there was a 63% increase in voluntary police deaths compared to the previous year, representing the highest number in 11 years (31 deaths in total). To give you an idea, military police officers die more from suicide than from homicide.

Not coincidentally, this increase in self-inflicted deaths is accompanied by an increase in murders committed by the São Paulo police. Under the leadership of Secretary Guilherme Derrite, operations were carried out in the Baixada Santos region that resulted in brutal massacres. Under the argument of “combating crime” or “counter-offensive” to the death of a police officer in the region, 134 people were murdered in the first two months of 2024, who, in many cases, did not have any type of dangerousness or connection to the activity. linked to crime.

In the report from Bridge Journalism, researchers point out how the topic of police officers' mental health tends to be viewed with reservations by the corporation, as it would weaken the “virile” and “heroic” social representation of the category. In this sense, they highlight how the Military Police itself contributes to the lack of care for its members.

There is, however, an aggravating factor that was not mentioned by the researchers in the report: the naturalization of the practice of torture among the military. A few days ago, the case of a police officer victim of torture during a training course promoted by the Shock Battalion of the Military Police of the Federal District was published in the press. According to the portal G1,[ii] The victim suffered multiple injuries, such as kidney failure, skeletal muscle rupture, meniscus rupture, herniated disc, lumbar injury and brain injury. The crime resulted in fifteen arrest warrants for the police officers involved.

In this way, it is not difficult to see that the militarization of the police – due to its rigidly hierarchical, masculinized and violent nature – is currently one of the main determinants of the mental suffering of police officers and, consequently, the risk of suicide. Official data reveal that the military model is more harmful to police officers than the supposed “marginality” that they compulsively aim to combat.

However, it is possible to go further. There is a fundamental element to be considered in this increase in military deaths, namely: the inseparability between heterodestruction and self-destruction that constitutes the current Brazilian suicidal state. This concept – developed by authors such as Paul Virilio and, currently, by Vladimir Safatle[iii] – it is important to think about how the division of society between “us x them”, typical of fascist thinking, is not only responsible for directing violence against specific groups, but also by agents against themselves.

In other words, the suicidal nature of the fascist State makes violence against others and against oneself undifferentiated, converting the external enemy into an internal enemy.

Perhaps it would be possible to hypothesize that the advance of fascism in Brazil (and the world) in recent years – which resulted in a dissolution of what still remained of mediation between the individual and society – caused the state management of destruction of the other to become a self-destructiveness in the service of the State. Under Brazil's current suicidal state, the heterodestruction promoted by the military police is turning into administered self-destruction.

In this sense, Tarcísio de Freitas' indifference towards the dozens of deaths resulting from police operations expands into indifference towards the deaths of police officers themselves by suicide. The governor's “I don't care” (regarding the complaint sent to the UN as a result of his murderous administration) also addresses the way he and the military institution manage the mental suffering of its members. In a way, the carte blanche to carry out ritualistic murder on the outskirts of São Paulo has been converted, on the other hand, into ritualistic suicide by the military.

Hence the urgency in resuming the debate on the demilitarization of the police. It is necessary both to restructure the violent and coup-oriented nature of the corporation and to guarantee the lives of its workers.

The demilitarization of the military police is, therefore, necessary for the survival of public security agents themselves.

* Thiago Bloss de Araújo is a social psychologist and PhD from the School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at UNIFESP.


[I] https://ponte.org/sob-tarcisio-suicidio-de-pms-bate-recorde-em-sp-e-faz-duas-vezes-mais-vitimas-do-que-homicidios/

[ii] https://g1.globo.com/df/distrito-federal/noticia/2024/04/29/pm-denuncia-ter-sido-torturado-por-colegas-no-batalhao-de-choque-no-df.ghtml

[iii] https://aterraeredonda.com.br/estado-suicidario/

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