It rarely happens, but 12 military police officers were denounced by the Public Ministry of São Paulo for murder, due to the “disastrous operation to disperse the ball” in Paraisópolis, which left nine young people dead, almost all of whom were black. The mantra of police self-defense was not enough to cut the investigation in the bud and prevent, as usual, a trial by the Judiciary.
Self-defense has been excluding the generic illegality of police violence. It is usually assumed, not demonstrated. And file. Until the dead prove otherwise. The legal argument enhances the Brazilian Gross Domestic Product (PIBB), our share of incivility, suffering and death inflicted on Brazil that the laws do not reach. A mechanism for releasing the abuse of lethal and non-lethal state force, signed by the Justice.
Annual report by the Brazilian Public Security Forum shows that police lethality is growing rapidly in the country and reached a record in 2020, with 6,416 deaths. Of these, 79% correspond to black people. Since 2013, when the publication was launched, with 2,212 deaths registered, the increase was almost 200%.
The Paraisópolis massacre (sometimes called “tragedy”, a term that blurs responsibilities) has many meanings. First, it reveals, once again, that police practice does not obey a normative parameter and ignores procedures defined by the police. There is no policy on the use of force in the country, with transparent criteria, that educates the police to ask if and how they can use force.
Second, it reveals our legal and institutional limitation to holding accountable a complex chain of command within which the policeman who pulls the trigger is the executing arm at the end of the line. There is a deliberate legal limitation that refuses to climb the steps of the hierarchy from which orders emanate. At the most, we sue the policeman so-and-so. We rarely punish. We rarely compensate victims’ families.
It is also reminiscent of the Carandiru massacre, a major symbol not only of police lack of control, but of judicial debacle. As the lawyer for the police officers who, by superior order, broke into the pavilion and killed unarmed prisoners said, “the trial is being a Nuremberg in reverse, in which the commanders are being left out of the whole process.”
For nearly 30 years, the 111 deaths remain unpunished, and a labyrinthine judicial process, conducted at a pachydermic pace, remains without concrete results. Meanwhile, many police officers who participated in the action were promoted; few families were compensated (having waited, even so, 20 years in a queue for court orders, a queue for state payment for court convictions).
Reducing police lethality is not an indecipherable mystery. The São Paulo police force has been gradually improving its index for a year, thanks to the command’s willingness to control the use of force. Among other measures, it implemented a mitigation commission to assess cases and protocols; adopted more adequate weaponry and impact assessment to measure results; expanded the program of portable cameras and achieved the lowest fatality rate in eight years.
The constitutional right to public safety depends not only on indignation against the police who commits a crime and its punishment, but on control, procedures and a broader architecture of accountability. The police become more effective and legitimate, and the police more protected and valued, the more institutionalized and controlled. Not the other way around.
If the justice allows killing, the police kills. If the governor commands (“starting in January, the police will shoot to kill”) and the president celebrates (“I want to give the police a free hand to kill”), he kills with relish. In the face of political delinquency, it is up to the judge to assert the right without fear or bargaining. And no verbal frills. If it doesn’t do that, it doesn’t do much else. Remains protagonist of PIBB.
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