“Difficulties to comply with social isolation measures highlight the problems of exercising authority in Brazil, since state decrees have their effectiveness confronted.”
Alan Fernandes *
The global crisis caused by Covid-19 has undeniable impacts due to the more than 300 thousand deaths that occurred in Brazil alone. If the medical issues involved were not sufficiently challenging, the demands for facing them touch on a central point of democracy: freedom. This is because the restriction of movement and gathering of people is recognized as a very relevant measure to prevent the spread of the virus.
The difficulties in complying with social isolation measures highlight the problems of exercising authority in Brazil. The authority is based on politically legitimate rules, written in legal documents, definitions that are scarce with regard to the maintenance of a social order, which, in the end, perform restrictive measures against the pandemic.
These issues were banned in discussions in the country, which does not establish consensus that can define the limits between authority and authoritarianism. Thus, both the state decrees, which impose rules for the circulation and gathering of people, have their effectiveness constantly confronted, which requires the activation of the Judiciary, and the instruments placed at the disposal of the bodies in charge of surveillance are inefficient.
Clandestine parties have been on the news for the past few days. In them, people are seen meeting in bars, nightclubs, casinos (?!) And open-air parties, contrary to the legal regulations prohibiting the holding of these events, as such events promote the community transmission of the virus that causes the disease. In order to deal with the decisions to confront the pandemic, the state has committed its organs endowed with supervisory power to prevent such meetings from occurring or being closed.
In São Paulo, in the field of ostensive police, the Military Police has been acting on three fronts. In the “Operation Touch of Restriction”, the loudspeaker equipment installed in the vehicles is used to try to convince the population to return to their homes in the period between eight in the evening and five in the morning.
In addition, together with other agencies, it works to close establishments that promote such meetings, whose fines are imposed according to the São Paulo Health Code, in addition to criminal measures related to crimes of disobedience (article 330 of the Penal Code ) and the determination of the public authority to prevent the spread of a contagious disease (Article 268 of the Penal Code).
Allied to this, “Operation Peace and Protection” seeks to intervene in meetings in public spaces, using criteria that meet a combination of the risks involved to the regulars and the operational assets available to attend to the occurrence. Here, the strategy adopted is the occupation of space by obtaining prior information about the event, in order to prevent it from taking place.
Many social gatherings, which now constitute a public health problem, become, for the daily lives of countless people, a problem that is difficult to face, because the police agencies have incomplete legal mechanisms, which gives an account of how the question of what now called “clandestine parties” is a problem that already exists in our society.
At the present time, the legal support and concerted efforts provided by the legal rules to deal with the pandemic have brought some progress in governance on this issue, but it tends to disappear as soon as the health crisis subsides. This is due to Brazil’s normative inability to establish clear, general and politically legitimate rules regarding public order management. One of the most astonishing evidences is the growing number of deaths due to noncompliance with social isolation, but also the inability for the adopted measures to be widely complied with.
In spite of the ever-present limitation of resources for broader compliance with measures, the question arises of the state’s own institutional capacity to exercise authority. The issue of regulating parties, in public spaces or not, was only highlighted by the pandemic.
Based on a specific region of the city of São Paulo, the occurrences registered as “disturbance of public peace” are the third largest in the number of emergency calls in the year 2020. To face this issue, the greater range of sanctioning measures , brought by the state decree linked to the pandemic, with the imposition of fines by the Health Surveillance, allowed the regulation of this issue to be more effective than in relation to the criminal measures in force until then, even though they prove to be insufficient.
As an example of other measures adopted against the spread of the virus, countries such as Chile and Italy adopted the issuance of a circulation permit, with the imposition of fines and prisons. Such measures are not even included in the portfolio of shares available to decision makers. More severe measures like these would not find a political environment for their discussions due to the prohibition that themes like this occur in Brazil.
If, in the course of our lives, the limits between individual freedoms and the collectivity were mediated by the informality of police action, without major repercussions, now, issues of regulation of social life raise such problems, because, after all, the facts of social life that take place on the fringes of society impacts everyone, without distinction.
So, let the dimension of this crisis leave as a lesson the need to inaugurate a debate that builds rules on the management of social life, without which, neither reasonable levels of social harmony can be promoted, nor excesses of street level are prevented, so that, by its absence or by its power, we exchange authority for authoritarianism.
* Alan Fernandes is a Major in the Military Police of the State of São Paulo, with a PhD in Public Administration and Government from FGV-EAESP and a member of the Brazilian Forum on Public Security.
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In this week’s edition, also read “Vaccination of public security professionals: more vaccine, less politicization” and “Case of Henry Borel refers to a script kept somewhere in the past”.