The United States are shaken by raging protests after a grand jury declined to indict Ferguson white officer Darren Wilson on charges for killing an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, in an August shooting.
Police violence and, in some cases, brutality often related to racial dynamics is not a new issue for the United States. Movies are full of American white police officer’s stereotypes: they love doughnuts, are often overweight and frequently short tempered especially when dealing with black people.
In light of these events, a recently published report by a São Paulo-based Brazilian NGO called Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública (FBSP) came to my mind. This organization aims to build a national platform to help with technical cooperation in the field of police activities and public safety management, promoting transparency and accountability as fundamental factors to improve present and future public safety policies. Each year the FBSP publishes an annual report on public safety in Brazil: the last one came out recently, on November 11.
Public safety is a major issue in Brazil. The report itself outlines how in 2013 the social cost of violence, which includes estimates on loss of lives and public investments on security, prisons and educational measures, was of 258 billion R$ (approximately 102 billion USD) and constituted a remarkable 5.4% of the Brazilian GDP. The homicide rate (homicides per year per 100.000 inhabitants) is one of the highest in the world, with a total number of violent deaths in 2013 of 53.646, which means an assassination every 10 minutes. Statistics are not better if we look at rapes: 50.320 recorded in 2013; but just 35% of the victims usually reported these episodes to the police, which could mean that the total number of rapes in the past year is 143.000, an impressively high number.
Nevertheless, the Brazilian government invests 1.26% of its GDP every year in public safety, which is totally in line with the investments in other countries: for example, the European Union invests every year in public safety 1.30% of its GDP; the U.S.A. “just” 1.02%. However, they respectively have a homicide rate (per 100.000 inhabitants) of 1.1 and 4.7, while Brazil struggles with a homicide rate of 25.2. Therefore, the money invested could not be enough or at least could be spent more efficiently.
As stated in the introduction of the report:
“The Brazilian judicial and security system is very inefficient in facing this reality and relies on a paradox: on one side it is usual to deal with high rates of impunity which undermine the trust in law and public institutions. On the other side, public safety institutions and criminal justice, under pressure by the public opinion, are driven by the idea that is necessary to do something at any cost to reduce crimes: this often results in extreme penal sentences and anachronistic or discriminatory policies.”
This brings to the analysis of police brutality in Brazil.
“The empirical evidence shows that Brazilian police make abusive use of lethal force to respond to crime and violence”, the report said.
“In addition to using excessive force, Brazilian police frequently execute suspects”, said Bruno Paes Manso of the University of Sao Paulo’s Center for the Study on Violence. He called it “a practice rarely investigated.“
Numbers are self-explanatory: in five years, from 2009 to 2013, Brazilian police killed 11.197 people, which is the same amount of people killed by the American police in 30 years: 11.090 victims from 1983 to 2012. If we take just the 2013, a year in which use of lethal force by the police increased also because of the incoming football World Cup that needed a strong effort in security, police killed an average of 6 people per day.
Data on police deaths are not less shocking: 490 officers died in 2013; 1.770 in the last five years. It is interesting to note that while 81.8% of deaths resulting from police use of lethal force are caused by police officers in service, 75.3% of police officers deaths occurred out of service.
Coming to detailed data, more than a half of victims of homicide are aged 15-29 and black people are 30.5% more victims than whites, nearly 70% of the total.
By presenting this report, the goal is not to compare Brazil and US, two countries so different they can hardly be associated. Neither is it to dismiss the values and reasons behind the riots related to the Ferguson murder. Has usual instead, the purpose is to stimulate in the reader a broader view of the issue related to police brutality and violence, far from stereotypes and from a US-centered point of view.
In conclusion as sadly affirmed by Ignacio Cano, a Brazilian sociologist who specializes in the study of crime and police violence, Brazil “has a Ferguson every day”.