If you live in a favela or have friends who do, you know about violence wreaked in them by drug traffickers, milicianos and police. Today, given an upcoming crackdown on crime by formal and informal security agents — though this position has significant support in many favelas — there is worry about the changing climate in Brazilian cities.
In a recent article, Americas Quarterly editor Brian Winter, who for some years has closely followed Jair Bolsonaro (including exclusive interviews) predicts that “upcoming months will bring an onslaught of death.” He notes this is the PSL candidate’s top priority, i.e. “relaxing laws and rules for security forces, allowing them to shoot first and ask questions later (to an even greater extent than today, considering police already kill 5,000 people per year). The goal is to intimidate or kill drug dealers, thieves and other criminals – and thus reverse the inexorable rise in crime since democracy returned to Brazil in 1985.”
Brazilian society, says Winter, “is in the mood to pound some heads”, though most public safety specialists warn of failure since “Brazilian society has changed since the 1980s and … militarization of security has spectacularly failed in places like Mexico and Central America – and in Rio de Janeiro since February of this year.”
Instead of “pounding heads”, specialists say, crime reduction depends on sophisticated measures such as better training, equipping, paying, controlling and managing police forces; effectively using intelligence and information; integrating the judiciary and penitentiaries as actors in public safety policy and increasing the role of federal government in controlling and funding this key area of national life.
Just as Bolsonaro promises to do, a president leading such an approach would be meeting Brazilian society’s central demand to be able to peacefully live and move about the country.
With a less sophisticated public safety policy, Winter claims, the human price will be high. Inocents will die and be tortured. Milicianos, he says, will take advantage of the situation to settle accounts and intimidate enemies. We’ll see more murder cases such as city councilwoman Marielle’s.
Opponents of Jair Bolsonaro’s PSL, women, journalists, non-whites and non-heterosexuals, already report violent attacks over and above pre-first-round times. Jair Bolsonaro, himself a victim, says he cannot control his supporters. The Mapa da Violência site is receiving and publishing such reports.
Even before the Bolsonaro wave, constitutionally protected human rights were not a given in Rio de Janeiro. Last night, Morro dos Prazeres favela residents held a protest to defend the young William Preciliano, said to be wrongfully arrested two months ago. Such arrests in the favela have occurred twice before.
During the protest, this blogger asked human rights defenders present about strategies for what promises to be a new PSL era. Some, awaiting second-round results, doubt that Rio will actually come to be governed by the ideology of Bolsonaro’s party. Others trust the continued power of denouncing illegalities.
Of course government institutions and NGOs working in this area won’t give up on defending society’s weakest members. Even if the PSL dominates the state legislature as of 2019, we did see the election of five black women to it. Along with colleagues, they’re likely to defend the rights of those suffering the collateral damage of the expected hardline public safety policy. The press, which began covering informal urban territories in a more complete fashion starting in 2008, with pacification, will also play an important role in the clashes and teeth-gnashing that await us.