Police brutality has been a consistent historical problem in the United States for Black and Indigenous people. The media in the U.S. and around the world has been buzzing over the last several years, highlighting the problem of police abuse in the States, notably since 2014 after officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year-old Mike Brown, an unarmed African American boy. The murder sparked protests that began in Brown’s home of Ferguson, Missouri, and quickly spread across the country, and even to other parts of the world.
Generational police brutality goes goes back to slavery — slave patrollers were the precursor to modern U.S. law enforcement — theft of Indigenous land, Jim Crow laws, and management of Indigenous people on the reservation and outside the reservations. It’s what instigated the Black Lives Matter movement, and pushed it to an international scale.
While police brutality in the U.S. is not nearly recognised enough, law enforcement brutality in other countries is practically unheard of. Amnesty International and a number of other human rights organizations consider the current pattern of police homicides in Brazil a human rights crisis.
Since 2012, the number of police killings have more than doubled. In 2016, there were 920 police killings “in Rio de Janeiro alone, compared with 419 in 2012”, the Guardian reported. 182 people had been killed by police in the first two month of 2017.
“Since the last review at the United Nations, Brazil has not taken enough steps to tackle the shocking levels of human rights violations across the country, including soaring police homicide rates that leave hundreds of people dead every year,” said Jurema Werneck, Executive Director at Amnesty International Brazil.
The UN was set to review Brazil’s human rights record again in 2017. Amnesty International reported Brazil as having a very “high number of homicides overall with nearly 60,000 people killed in the country in 2015” with the “majority of victims [being] black young men”. In 2016, there were over 61,000 homicides.
In the same year, Brazilian law enforcement killed 4,244 people. This is a 26 percent increase from the previous year. The national murder rate in 2015 was 28.6 per 100,000 people, which is significantly higher than the 10 per 100,000 rate that the United Nations considers a baseline for persistent violence.
In response to a surge in the number of police dying while on duty in Rio de Janeiro (142 cops were killed in 2016, 30% more than in 2015), Brazil’s government is considering a bill that will allow police to more easily bear firearms. Of all Brazil’s security forces, police in Rio are considered the deadliest. According to the Wall Street Journal, they killed at least 712 people by the end of August of 2017.
“By comparison, there were roughly 17,000 homicides in the United States in 2016. Police shot and killed at least 963 people, according to The Washington Post’s database on police shootings. The U.S. population outnumbers the Brazilian population by about 110 million people.” – The Huffington Post
Not unlike the police in the United States, Brazilian police originated to suppress slave revolts and catch fugitive slaves. Again, similar to the police in the United States, law enforcement in Brazil have been consistently used by the state to suppress workers and social riots.
Police killings in the United States hovers annually around 1,000 people, whereas police killings in Brazil average upwards of 6,800 every year, according to RioOnWatch. Police attempted to “pacify” the favelas in 2014 during the World Cup, and in 2016 during the Olympics, with mixed results.
Over 1,400 police and marines invaded poor communities in pursuit of “drug lords” during the World Cup. With little to no oversight of the police by communities or the security state, these raids continue to show how unregulated the police are.
In October 2013, 18-year-old Paulo Roberto was murdered by police. His mother, Fátima dos Santos, “says young black men are hounded by the police”.
In May 2014, 19-year-old Jonathan de Oliveira Lima was shot in the back and killed by police as he was walking home.
In April 2015 10-year-old boy Eduardo de Jesus Ferreira was killed by police.
In March 2017 a 13-year-old student Maria Eduarda Alves da Conceição, was killed by military police while in school.
Sao Paulo-based Brazilian Forum on Public Safety have said that police nationwide killed 11,197 people between 2009 and 2014, while law enforcement agents in the United States killed the same amount of people in 30 years.
According to the New York based Human Rights Watch, police are charged for their killings less than 1 percent of the time.
“This fatal police violence is especially rampant in favelas — unregulated settlements born out of a lack of housing across the city, which are home to more than 11 million people in Rio. Usually built up and down hills that were ignored by real estate developers, favelas are welcoming, vibrant, and unique communities that are historically places of Afro-Brazilian resistance. However, their historical origins mean they are often neglected by the government. The state’s negligence of favelas goes from basic sanitation issues to healthcare and education — but the most urgent oversight is the unaccountable and virulent military police.” – Teen Vogue
Over the last decade, Rio police have killed at least 8,000 people.
Prison conditions in Brazil are also inhumane. According to Human Rights Watch, more “than 622,000 adults are behind bars, 67 percent more than the prisons were built to hold”.
In juvenile detention, there are over “24,000 children. [This is] almost 24 percent more than the facilities’ capacity”. Twenty-two prisoners were killed in the states of Roraima, Acre, and Rondonia during October 2016.
Another eleven children were killed in prisons for juveniles in the state of Pernambuco during the same month. In the early days of January 2017, nearly 100 prisoners were killed in prisons in the states of Roriama, Amazonas, and Paraiba.
More people have died in 2015 from violence in Brazil than in the civil war in Syria, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety. The Forum stated 58,383 people died in Brazil in 2015 due to violence compared to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 55,219 deaths.
The Brazilian Forum for Public Security’s numbers also includes those killed by police. Syria, with a population between 22-16 million, is about 10 times smaller than Brazil, with an estimated population at around 200 million people.
As can be seen, police brutality in Brazil — similar to United States and other nations with similar histories — overlaps with issues of race, class, colonialism, and inequality as a whole.