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Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History Democracy and Violence in Brazil Author(s): Teresa

Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History

Democracy and Violence in Brazil Author(s): Teresa P. R. Caldeira and James Holston Reviewed work(s):

Source: Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct., 1999), pp. 691-729 Published by: Cambridge University Press

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Democracy and Violence in Brazil



University of California at Irvine



Universityof California at San Diego

Democracy has expanded remarkablythroughout the world during the last quarter of the twentieth century. In 1972, therewere fifty-two electoraldemoc- racies, constituting 33 percent of the world's 160 sovereign nation-states. By 1996, the numberhad risen to 118 electoraldemocraciesout of 191 states, or 62 percent of the total, for a net gain of 66 democraticstates. Among the larg- ercountrieswitha population of one million people or more, thenumberof po- litical democracies nearlytripledduring the same period. If it took two hun-

dred years of politicalchange fromthe Age of Revolutionto 1970 to generate about fifty new democratic states, it has taken only ten years since the mid- 1980s to yield the same number again. This movementof political democrati- zation has swept over every region of the globe, taking root in societies with very differentculturesand histories, from Papua New Guinea to Botswana, Brazil, and Bulgaria. In the one region whereit has not transformedthe nature of national rule, the Middle East, it has nevertheless generated a plethora of lo- cal democratic projects anddebates.At the end of the millennium,democracy has indisputably become a global value adoptedby the most diverse societies. Although the new democratizationis overwhelmingly non-Western, the dominant theories and evaluations of democracy remain predicated on its Western experience.They remain especially focused on the transformationof

political systems


erationsare certainly fundamental. They establishthatmost countriesin Latin America,for example, have indeed become democraticin the sense that they are political democracies. However, the problematic andat times perverse de- mocratizationsof LatinAmericademonstrate just as surely thatthe consolida-

tionof democracyrequires social andcultural changes which escape the analy-

on regimechange, electoral competition, andtheir precon-

is a hallmarkof Westerndemocratization.Such political consid-

'We derive these dataon electoraldemocraciesfrom the annualworld

compiledsystematically since 1972. Although

approach in evaluatingdemocracy, as

surveys crucialin its own right, we arecriticalof


House has

the electoral

will become clearbelow.

0010-4175/99/4423-0446$7.50 + .10 ? 1999 Society for ComparativeStudy of Society and History










sis of this narrow politicalperspective. Theirdifficulties stronglysuggest that, althoughnecessary,politicaldemocracy is not enough to securethe civil rights



democraciesthatwithoutthis realization,political democracy loses its legiti- macy and efficacy. It suffersnot only as a meansto framesocial interactionbut also as a mode of governance.

development of

citizenship or produce a democraticruleof law.Without both, therealization democratic citizenship remainsdisabled.Itis increasingly evidentin thenew

The fundamental problem is thatthe form, substance, and

the new non-Westerndemocracies usually differ significantly fromthe canon- ized Euro-American experience. It is not only thattheirdifferenthistoriesre- quire a different approach to understand, on the one hand, the global reachof democracyand, on the other, its specificity in diverse culturalcircumstances. It is also thatthese otherhistories suggest the needto revise many standardas- sumptions aboutdemocratization. They demonstrate, for example, boththe in- sufficiency of democraticelectionsfor realizing democratic citizenship, andthe limitationsof a democratic theory based on elections for understanding this problem.Furthermore, these otherdemocraciesshow thatthe spread,timing, and substanceof citizenshipvary significantly in differenthistoricalcontexts. Finally,they also reveal thatthe development of citizenship is never cumula- tive, linear, or evenly distributedfor all citizens, but is always a mix of pro-

gressive and regressiveelements,uneven,unbalanced, and heterogeneous-in short, whatwe call disjunctive. Above all, it is the widespread concurrenceof democratic politics and sys- tematic violence against citizens in emerging democraciesthat reveals these limitationsof methodand theory, and that requires a different conceptualiza- tion. This concurrencemeans that many such new democracies experience a similarand definingdisjunction:although their political institutionsdemocra- tize withconsiderable success, and althoughtheypromulgate constitutionsand legal codes based on the rule of law and democratic values, the civil compo-

nentof citizenship remains seriouslyimpaired as citizens suffer systematic vi- olations of their rights. In such uncivil political democracies,violence, injus- tice, and impunity areoftenthenorms.As a result, uncivildemocracies undergo the delegitimation of many institutionsof law and justice, anescalationof both

violent crimeand police abuse, thecriminalizationof the poor, a

crease in support for illegal measuresof control, the pervasive obstructionof the principle of legality, and an unequal and uneven distributionof citizen rights.Narrowlypolitical definitionsof democracy-those that ignore the civ- il component of citizenship and its constituentelements of justice and law in the reallives of citizens andstates-overlook these dilemmas. By theterm "civil," we refernotto theclassic liberal separation betweenstate and non-state,political society andcivil society, public and private, or to any suchdichotomiesthat typically derivefromthe state/non-statedivide.2 Rather,

significant in-

2 These dichotomiesare usefully analyzed in Bobbio 1989:1-43.







we use civil to referto an aspect of citizenship, and citizenship to referto the prerogatives and encumbrancesof membership in the modern political com- munity.Developing T. H. Marshall's (1977) typology (butdiscarding his pro- gressive and cumulative history), we distinguish civil components of citizen- ship fromtheir political,socioeconomic, andcultural counterparts. Weuse civil to specify the sphere of rights,practices, andvalues thatconcerns liberty, both negative and positive, and justice as the meansto all other rights. With regard

to liberty, thecivil component of citizenship not only securesits negative mean-

of guaranteeing the autonomy of private individuals against state. It also secures liberty in the positive sense of rights to

ings in the sense the abusesof the

associate,assemble, andcommunicate amongprivateindividuals, who thusbe- come associated individualsand thereby create the public sphere of society. With regard to justice, the rights, practices, and values of civil citizenship ground the democraticruleof law.

Through these principles of liberty and justice, the

civil component relates

and regulates both society andthe state-the

constituted agents. This regulation createsa productive mediationbetween so- ciety and state that is ambiguous, not dichotomous:the civil sphere differ-

entiates society from the political system by defending the formerfrom the

abusesof the latter;however, it also integrates the two by

to confrontrelationsof inequality anddominationwithin society itself, andto shapepeople intocertainkindsof citizen-subjects. Inthe latter sense, therefore,

civil democracydepends on the state's capacity to impose sanctions. High- lighting this ambiguousmediation, ouruse of the civil embracesa paradox of modern democracy:althoughsociety needs protection fromthe state, it is only withinthe frameworkof a statethatthis is possible.Thus,citizenship is a com-

plex regulatoryregimeby whichthe statemolds people into particular kindsof subjects, and by whichcitizens also holdthe stateaccountableto theirinterests.


society throughcitizenship.3 One of our aims in this essay is to stressthe importance of the civil compo- nentof citizenship in democratic processesand,therefore, in democratictheo-

ry. We do so by looking at what happens when this component is systematical-

ly violated, not under dictatorship butunder politicaldemocracy. We focus on

the case of Brazil to emphasize both the lived consequences of such violence

against citizens under democracy, and its theoretical significance for under-

standing democratic change. We considera

thatderivefromthefundamental disjunction of

olationof civil citizenship, andthatconcernthe

latteras one of society's legally

utilizing state power

the notionof "civil"to emphasize this complex imbricationof stateand

numberof consequences in Brazil

politicaldemocracy andthe vi- individual body,public space,

collective rights, and the rule of law. We wantto emphasize at the outset that

these consequences are found in other political democracies,including those

3 Forfurtherdiscussionof the civil component of citizenship, see Holston, forthcoming,partic- ularlyChapter 5.









thatareestablishedandnot generallyuncivil, forit is also our argument thatall democraciesare disjunctive in the sense suggested above, at all times and in various ways.

thatit presents with particular andunfortu-

nate clarity the disjunction of the civil component of citizenship thatis charac- teristicof manyemerging democracies.WhereasBrazil's political democrati-

zation in the 1980s-after

individual liberty,autonomy, and security, the actualitiesof everyday violence against Brazilians producecontinuing or even increasingvulnerability of the citizen's body.Many Braziliansfeel less individual security under democracy.

WhereasBrazil's democraticconstitutionof 1988 is

of a public thatis open,transparent, andaccessible, a cultureof fearand suspi- cion has takenhold under politicaldemocracy that produces abandonmentand

lawlessness of public spaces-their


enclosure,fortification, and privatization. WhereasBrazilian democracypre- sumes the rule of law, the institutionsand practices of law and justice aredis-

credited and undemocratic.Their delegitimation demonstratesthat political democracy does not necessarily or automaticallygenerate a democraticrule of law.

WhatmakesBrazil exemplary is

twenty years of militarydictatorship-promised

predicated on the notion

conversioninto no-man'sland-or

In the next section of the essay, we analyze these variousviolations of


civil component of citizenship in the context of Brazil's current political de-

mocracy. In the final section, we develop the concept of disjunctive democra- cy as a meansof better understanding these contemporary formsof democrat- ic development. The empirical basis of this investigation derives from ethnographic researchin the metropolitanregions of Sao Paulo and Brasilia, which we have, at various times, conducted separately and together. It derives especially froman anthropological concernwiththe performative dimensionof social andinstitutionalrelations-that is, with the representativepractices and exemplaryparticularsthrough whichtheserelationsare enacted, as well as with

the scripts,

sets of

Ourintention, in this sense, is not just to criticizethe strictlypolitical definition

of democracy, but also to suggest an anthropologicalperspective in its study. We do not insist on this intention by calling attentionto it throughout the dis- cussion. Rather, we try to demonstrateits force by focusing on the civil com- ponent of citizenship andthelived consequences of its violation, and by letting these social practices lead to a theoretical argument aboutthe disjunctive na- tureof democratization.4

like democracy, that are supposed to provide a calculus for many prescribed effects.

relations, and that people must perform to gain the

presentations we delivered together in 1994 and 1995.

The first was given at CEDLA (Center for LatinAmericanResearchand Documentation) in Am- sterdam.The second was at the conference"FaultLines of DemocraticGovernancein theAmeri- cas,"sponsoredby theNorth-SouthCenteratthe University of Miami.Thethirdoccurredata meet-

4 This essay

began to take shape in three











In recent years, Brazilian society has produced numerousevents indicativeof

a disjunctive democratization.Some point to an expansion of democraticciti-

zenship, andothersto its erosionand degradation. Some indicatethe strength- ening of democraticstate institutions, and othersthe dismantling or "illegal- ization" of the state. Most frequently, events of contradictorymeaning are coeval. The expansion of democracy is suggestedby the organization of new

social movements throughout Brazil

liferationof NGOs in the 1990s, the revitalizationof trade unions, andthe or-

ganization of various investigative commissions by the federal legislature, one of which provoked the 1992 impeachment of PresidentFernandoCollor de Mello for corruption. Therehave also been regular,lawful, and generally un- problematic elections at all levels of government, andthecreationof numerous


new political parties,including the

the degradation of democracy includetherise in violent crime,police violence,

andhuman rightsabuses, all of which increased dramaticallyafter the institu- tionalizationof democraticrule.This dismalrecordof violence againstmostly innocent and unarmedcivilians includes the massacreof indigenouspopula- tions, peasants, ruralleaders (like Chico Mendes), street children, adolescents

in poor urban neighborhoods, and ten;ao, where militarypolice killed

bellion). Police violence has reached unprecedentedlevels, and the forces of law andorderarethemselvesone of themain agents of violence in many cities.

Various police forces are plagued by corruption,entangled with organized crime, andaccustomedto violent and illegal methodsof action. Withtheincreasein criminaland police violence, publicspace in many cities has become characterized by muggings, assaultsof various kinds, shootings,

drugtrafficking and addiction,violence in traffic, and a generalscofflaw atti- tude.Violence of one sortor anotheris a common experience of daily life. As

a result, a cultureof fearand suspicion has taken root,giving support to extra- ordinary and often extra-legal measuresfor dealing with violence and crime.

For example, cities such as Rio

tionablefromthe point of view of democraticconsolidation.One of these was Operagao Rio in 1994, during which the army was sent into the city of Rio de Janeiroin an effort to control violent criminal activity.People applaud these militaryoperations.They also supportillegal and private "actsof justice," such

during the late 1970s and 1980s, the pro-

PT, the Workers' Party. Events

prisoners (as in Sao Paulo's Casa de De- 111unarmed prisoners in a 1992 prison re-

de Janeirohave enacted policies thatare ques-

ing on "Direitos,Identidadese OrdemPublica" sponsoredby theAssociacaoNacionalde P6s Grad-

uagco e Pesquisa em Ciencias Sociais (Anpocs) of Brazil.We would like to thankthe sponsors of

their support and encouragement. Our presentation at the Miami meeting in 1995

these events for

was published in a volume of conference papers, Fault Lines of Democracy

in Post-Transition Latin


America, ed. Felipe Agiiero and

Press) 1998:263-96. We utilize some dataand


(Miami:University of Miami North-SouthCenter


fromthese papers here.









as the extractionof confessions throughpolice torture, and vigilante effortsto

catch suspects. In all cases, the assertionof episodic order supercedes concern

for the institutionalorderof people are ready to defend

consistentlysupporting trialsof corruptpoliticians at all levels and defending free elections and political organization,they also overwhelmingly welcome actions like Operacao Rio. In the contextof crime,fear, andthe failureof the institutionsof law,people considerdiscussionsaboutthe legitimacy of the mil-

itaryoccupation in Rio or

pose to the consolidationof democracy-largely irrelevant. They also consid- er that suspected criminalshave no human rights to safeguard, and expect the police to respond to violence with violence. In what follows, we look more closely at several key elementsthatdefinethis perversity of violence under po-

litical democracy.


In contemporaryBrazil, violence against civilians is the domainin which the disrespect of civil rights and the failure of democratization strongly shape everyday social interactions.Since the mid-1980s, Brazilianshave perceived

violent criminality asthemain problemaffecting theircities. Not only hascrime increasedin this period, butthe type of criminality has also changed. Crimehas becomemore organized and violent, as the example of SaoPaulodemonstrates. Sao Paulo has one of the highest ratesof violent crime in Brazil. These rates are also high when compared to many cities aroundthe world. In the early

the totalcrime reported

to the civil police in the metropolitanregion of Sao Paulo.5Since the mid- 1980s, this percentage has been higher than30 percent,reaching 36.3 percent in 1996.Oneof thecrimesthatincreasedmostin the period 1981-1996 is mur- der (average annualvariationof 10 percent). In 1996, the rate of murder per hundredthousand population reached47.3, a value significantlyhigher thanthe 1981 rateof 14.62.6 In the last fifteen years, the proportion of violent deaths (accidents, homi- cides, and suicide) in totaldeathshas almostdoubledin the metropolitanregion of Sao Paulo, accounting for 8.95 percent of deathsin 1978, 15.82 percent in 1991, and 14.11 percent in 1993.7Since 1989, violentdeathshavebeenthe sec-

democratic legal normsand procedures.Although democratic procedures in the political system by

the prison assaultin Sao Paulo-and the threat they

1980s, violentcrime represented around20 percent of

thereis no official definitionof violent crime, for purposes of statisticalevaluation

assaultand battery, rob-

bery, and felony

Ratesof murderarebasedon the civil police recordsof reported crimes(boletinsde ocorren-


two mainsourcesof murderratesare

thoseof the

piledaccording to theInternationalClassificationof Disease categories).Although thetwo sources

register similar patterns of growth, the differencesbetweenthemare high. Rates by the death reg-

istry areon average around thirtypercenthigher than police reports. Fora complete discussionof

violent crimestatistics, see Caldeira (in press).

5 Although

we considerit to includemurder,attempted murder,rape,attemptedrape,



7 Dataon

violent deathsarefromthe death registry. The

police (reportedcrime)

andthe healthauthorities (compulsory death registration, com-







ond highest cause of deathin Brazil (afterrespiratorydiseases), while in 1980 they were only the fourth (Souza and Minayo 1995:90). Murderis responsible for the significant increasein violent deaths, since the proportion of other"ex- ternalcauses"in the total numberof deathshas remained relatively constant. Whilein 1978murdercaused 1.44 percent of thedeathsin the city of Sao Paulo, in 1994 it caused6.57 percent, anincreaseof 356 percent. In 1994, murdersac- countedfor 19.15 percent of the deathsof people between 20 and49 years of age in the municipality of Sao Paulo,becoming the maincause of deathin this age group. This rateis dramatically differentfrom thatof 1976, when murder

accountedfor only 4.9 percent of deathsin

percent of the deathsof people aged 15 to 24 were caused by murder. During the 1980s, murdersincreased 80 percent among 10 to 14-year-olds(Souza 1994:49). In additionto murder's increasing effect on the young (males more than females), thereareindicationsthatmurdervictimsare predominantlypoor. According to Pro-aimdatafor 1995, mostof thedistrictsof the city of SaoPaulo with the highest ratesof murder (rates between75 and97 murders per hundred

thousand population) were very poor. In contrastto this, the lowest rates (be- tweenthreeandfifteenmurders per hundredthousand population) werein mid- dle or upper-class districts.8 The increasein violent deathsis not a pattern of Sao Pauloalone. Homicide


1994:53-55). As a consequence, the homicideratesfor Brazil (around ten per hundredthousand),which were similarto those of the UnitedStatesin the ear- ly 1980s, morethandoubledAmericanratesby the late 1980s.The U.S. homi- cide rateis historicallyquitehigh compared to WesternEuropean and Japanese rates.Duringthe period from 1970 to 1990,Americanrateshave oscillatedbe- tween eight andten homicides per hundredthousand population, while Euro- pean rates have fluctuatedbetween 0.3 and 3.5, and Japanese rates have re- mained at aroundone homicide per hundredthousandpopulation(Chesnais 1981:471). In otherwords, the contemporary Brazilianhomicide rates above twenty are veryhighindeedif comparedto theAmerican,European, andJapan- ese ratesin the last few decades.However,nationalrateshide local disparities, and many urbanareashavehomicideratesconsiderablyhigherthanthenational average. In the case of Brazil during the late 1980s and 1990s, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Sao Paulo are the three most violent metropolitanregions, with homiciderates higher thanfortyper hundredthousandpeople.9

8 Pro-aim(Programa de Aprimoramentode Informacoesde Mortalidadeno Municfpio de Sao Paulo) is responsible for the deathstatisticsof the city of Sao Paulo.

the same age group. In 1994, 44.40

mostBrazilian metropolitanregionsduring the 1980s (Souza

It shouldbe notedthatin theU.S., in 1993, some cities hadmuch higher ratesthanthese,while otherAmericancities hadratescomparable or lower to those of Sao Paulo.Accordingto the FBI's UniformCrimeReportsfor the UnitedStatesfor 1993, some of the highest rateswere in New Or- leans (80.3), Washington,D.C. (78.5), Detroit (56.7), Atlanta(50.4), Miami (34.1), Los Angeles (30.5), New York City (26.5). However, the Brazilianhomicide rateshave oscillated much more thantheAmericanrates,andin manylargeAmericancities these numbershave decreasedsignifi- cantlysince the early 1990s. It is hardto obtaincomparableinformationwith regardto otherthird worldcountries.Nationaldatacompiledby theUnitedNationson causesof deatharenot available




Another way of evaluating the increasein violence is to look at the registra- tion of guns and reports of illegal possession of weapons. The annualnumber of registeredguns purchased in the metropolitanregionjumped from 9,832 in

1983 to 66,870 in 1994, an increaseof 580 percent. These numbers,however,

are far from portraying the increaseof weapons among the population, since the apprehension of non-registeredguns has also increased considerably. Po- lice reports of illegal possession of guns in Sao Paulo grew an average of 9.5 percent a year between 1981 and 1996. In 1996, the police registered5,563 cases of illegal possession of guns in the metropolitanregion. As reported in the media, many of the apprehendedguns are smuggled into the country and some (especially thoseused by drugdealers) aremore powerful thanthoseused by the police. Theincreaseof gunpossession correlateswiththefactthata high- er proportion of homicidesarecommittedwiththem. According to dataof death registration, in 1980, homicides by firearmsconstituted14.8 percent of the to-

talof homicidesin

andin 1992, 29.26 percent. Theincreasein the possession of guns indicatesnot

only an increasein crime and violence, but also shows how Sao Paulo'sresi-

dents are increasinglytaking the task of

tice we discuss later. In the daily life of cities such as Sao Paulo, an importantaspect of the in- crease in violent crime is what Caldeiracalls "thetalk of crime," a prolifera- tion of everydaynarratives,commentaries, and even jokes thathave crime as their subject(see Caldeira, in press: Part I). This talk produces and circulates stereotypes, both counteracting and provoking fear.Thenarrativesof crimethat emerge in the course of the most diverse and common conversations operate with clear-cut oppositions andessentialized categories derivedfromthe polar- ity of good versusevil. They help to symbolically reordera world disruptedby experiences of crime. But they do this in a complex and particularway. Their reordering bothcounters disruptions caused by violence, andmediatesand pro- liferatesviolence. Morethan maintaining a system of distinctions,narrativesof crimecreate stereotypes and prejudices.They separatecategories of people and reinforce inequalities. In addition, the categorical orderarticulatedin the talk of crimeis thedominantorderof an extremelyunequalsociety. As such, it does not incorporate the experiences of dominatedBrazilians-the poor, migrants fromthe Northeast,women, andothers. Rather, it usually discriminatesagainst andcriminalizesthem.The talkof crimeis a productive discoursein the sense thatit helps to producesegregation(social and spatial), abuses by the institu- tionsof order, the negation of citizenshiprights,and,especially, violence itself.

Sao Paulo; in 1989,they were31.2 percent(Souza 1994:55),

defense into theirown hands, a prac-

for mostAfricanandAsian countries.LatinAmericancountrieshave had relativelyhigh ratesin

the 1990s. Colombiahas one of the highest ratesin the world:74.4 in 1990. Brazil (20.2

Mexico (17.2 in 1991), andVenezuela (12.1 in 1989) have the next highest. Data for LatinAmer-

ica arefromUnitedNations (1995:484-505) andreferto deathrates compiledby healthauthori- ties. Local situations may differ considerably fromnational averages.

in 1989),







If the talk of crime generatesorder, it is not a democratic,tolerant,egalitarian order, butthe opposite. It is not ourintentionin this essay to determinethe underlying causes of the increasein violent crimeandthe breakdownof the institutionsof law over the

past fifteen years. No doubt, the related police corruption in Rio is an important factor. So, too, is

wealth (its industrial economycurrently rankseleventh among all nations), and its distributionof income, whichis one of the worstin the world.Made explicit

development of organizeddrugtrafficking and de JaneiroandSao Paulo since the mid-1980s thecontradictionbetweenBrazil'stremendous

to Brazilians by modernmass media, this gross inequalityis, surely, atthe root of muchviolence. Nevertheless, our argument is not about causes, butcorrela- tions.Whateverthe origins of the increasein violence, politicaldemocracy has not been able to deterit or even use its occurrenceto remakerelevantinstitu-

tions. Rather, the violence has shown


Brazilian society-to be especially weakin the areaof civil citizenship andthe

protection of civil rights. In turn, this weakness generates more opportunities for violence to proliferate.Moreover,politicaldemocracy has not been able to

dispel the causal link that many Brazilians-especially

make between democracy and violence: that is,

racy itself is responsible for the propagation of the new violence. This is not


oners,therebysupposedlycreating difficultiesfor the police andincentivesfor criminals; it is also, so the claim goes, because democracy has destructured Brazilian society by giving the masses a sense of politicalpower thatconfuses

theirsense of social

place." Our argument is thatthe response of a significantpart of the Brazilian elite to this perceived destabilizationhasbeento criminalizethe poor-by

paigningagainst human rights,by flooding the media with narrativizedcrime

stories, by investing in privatesecurity and private"justice,"by retreating to


to the propagation of violence. Although the returnto democraticelections at all levels between 1985 and

1989, and the promulgation of a new Citizens'Constitutionin 1988 heralded

the creationof a new national public sphere with new freedomsand forms of

participation for citizens, violence and the fear of violence have eviscerated

public confidence. Althoughpolitical democracypromised a new horizon of

equality andfairness-a

ty to deal with violence has erodedthathorizon for many. It is interesting to

note thatthis promise was bolstered by the Cardosoadministration'ssuccess-

ful reductionof hyperinflation in 1994 to practically zero. In theory, the end of rampant inflation should have expanded the sense of a productive futurefor working Brazilians.It should have createda new time-line against which to

measure personal and family progress. But apparently it has

Brazilian democracy-and,

those on the right-

thatthe institutionof democ-

because democracy defendshuman rights for criminal suspects and pris-

hierarchy-so muchso that "people no longer know their


thatthis criminalizationalso contributes significantly

new sense of the futurefor Brazilians-its


not. In interview









afterinterviewwith young adultswho live in the periphery of Sao Paulo, we foundthat theydespaired of reaching thenormalized goals of their parents, one symbolized by a family, house, and steadyjob. This combinationof reduced horizonsis the contextin which both violence and politicaldemocracy devel- op in Brazil. Two otherelements contributeto the experience of violent crime and fear thatframesthe everyday life of Brazil'scitizens: police violence andthe inad- equateresponse of the justice system. The failureof the institutionsof law to combat increasing violence andthe fact thatthose same institutionsoften add

to the violence put the population underconsiderablestress. They contribute

not only to increasing the fear of powerlessness but measuresof protection and vigilantism.

also to justifying private



dramaticindicationof the role of the police in the reproduction of violence


Sao Paulois thedataon the relationship betweenthenumberof people killed

by the police andthe total numberof murders.From 1986 to 1990, the police

committed10 percent of the totalnumberof killings in the metropolitanregion



New York City in

1.2 percent, andin Los Angeles, 2.1 percent.Althoughpolice violence has di- minishedin Sao Paulo since 1993, with the ratesback to the level of the late

1980s, no other city in theAmericasoutsideof Brazilhas a comparable record

of police abusein the use of deadly force (Chevigny 1995). In Brazil, the po-

lice constitute part of the problem of violence. Fromits creationin the early nineteenth century, the Brazilian police's prac- tices of violence, arbitrariness,discrimination, and disrespect of rights have been well known. Although the degree of police abusehas variedunderdiffer- ent politicalregimes,during this entire period the police have neverabandoned the practices of unsubstantiated arrest,torture, and battering. These practices have not always been illegal, and they have often been exercisedwith the sup- port of the citizenry, even of membersof social groups who have been the po-

lice's preferred victims. Throughout this period, different governments issued "lawsof exception" to accommodate existingdelinquentpolice practices, or to cover them up. Although these laws were usually issued under dictatorships, they frequently survived under democraticrule. Thus, the legal parameters

framingpolice workhave


routineof abuses.The repression of crimehas targeted the working classes in particular, andhas frequentlymerged with politicalrepression. Theformulathat the elites of the Old Republic madefamoushas remainedin place: "Thesocial question is a matterof the police."Consequently, the poorer sectorsof the pop-

Sao Paulo; in 1991, the percentagejumped to 15.9 percent, andin 1992 rose

27.4 percent. A comparison indicatesthe absurddimensionof these rates.In

the 1990s, the averagepercentage of police killings has been

often shifted,making theboundariesbetweenthe le-

and the illegal unstable, and creating conditionsfor the continuationof a







ulationin particular have unremittingly sufferedvariousforms of police vio-

lence and legal injustice. As a result, the poor have learnedto fear the police

anddistrustthe justice Itis not necessary to

these points. However,discussing a few contemporaryaspects of this history will demonstratethe complicatedrelationship betweenthe police andthe legal

order.The militaryregime thattook power in 1964 reorganized the police. De-

cree 667 of 1969 unifiedall preexisting stateuniformed police into

itarypolice force, subordinatedto the army and charged with uniformedstreet patrolling. The objective was to trainand organize this new police force cording to a military model.At the same time, the civil police continuedto ex- ist, comprising the administrativeandthe judiciarypolice. The 1988 constitu- tion preserved thedualstructureof the police forcesaftertheendof the military

regime. Both the civil and militarypolice forces are organized at the statelev- el and are underthe jurisdiction of the secretary of public security.However, they have different hierarchies,training, and recruitment procedures. In spite of theirunified authority, thisdual organizationgenerates constantrivalriesand conflicts betweenthe two police forces.The two also seem to specialize in dif-

ferent types

civil police,

arrest, while the militarypolice aremore likely to kill suspects.'?

of abuses.As many human rightsorganizations have shown, the who are in charge of investigations, tend to torture people under

system. review theentire history of theBrazilian police to make

a statemil-


Rules governing the current militarypolice include some laws of exception that put themabove the civil justice system. Decree-Law 1,001 of 1969-still

in force-establishes

considered military crimesand judgedby a specialmilitaryjustice, even if such offenses were committedin peacetime andin pursuit of civilian functions.In other words, since 1969 therehas been a specialjustice for the militarypolice. This exception became the normwith the constitutionof 1988. Writtenunder a democraticrule by a freely elected congress, the 1988constitutionmaintained the militarypolice as the institutionin charge of "theostensive policing andthe preservation of the public order"(art.144, par.5) andthe militaryjustice as the jurisdiction for dealing with crimescommitted by militarypolicemen. In May 1996, aftera massacre by the militarypolice (in Para, in northern Brazil), Pres- ident Fernando Henrique Cardoso supported a project in Congress that pro- posed that militarypolicemen be tried by civil courts. Nevertheless, this proj- ect didnotwin congressionalapproval until August 1997 (Law9299), andthen in a milderform. Its approval in this formindicatesthe support thatthe police enjoy, despite theirviolent nature.The new law shifts jurisdiction to ordinary courtsin murders involving militarypolicemen andsoldiers. However, all oth- er crimes, includingmanslaughter and physical assault,remainin the military

that all crimes committed by military bodies shouldbe

10 See, for example,

AmericasWatchCommittee1987.Also see Pinheiro (1991) for one of the

first analyses thatdemonstratesa pattern of abuse by the militarypolice.



system. The problem is thatthe right to characterizea killing as murderor as

manslaughter remainswith militarypolice investigators.Obviously, this limits the impact of the law. Nevertheless, it is an indicationof the Cardosoadminis- tration'sconcernto curbhuman rightsviolations, as we discussbelow.


Varioushuman rightsgroups have amassedconsiderableevidence

strating thatthe militaryjustice overwhelminglyacquits(or dismisses charges


dence confirmsthatthe militaryjustice is rigorous as faras internal discipline


is clear:this recordof acquittal or dismissalstimulatesan explicit sense of im- punityamong the police, andtherefore perpetuates the continuationof abuses associated especially with excessive use of force. As Paul Chevigny (1995) demonstratesin his analysis of police abusein six cities in the Americas, a de-

crease of abuse is directly relatedto the enforcementof systems of account- ability. Whenthe police arenotmadeaccountablefortheir extralegal or illegal behavior, violence and abuse escalate. The legal exception that removes the

Brazilian militarypolice fromthe civilian justice system of accountability in-

creases their impunity andtheiruse of violence in dealing with indirectly assuresthemof a wide margin for arbitrary behavior.

These consequences can also be demonstrateda contrario, by analyzing cases in which accountabilityprovoked a declinein police abuse.Therearetwo such examples fromrecenttimes. Duringthe 1970s, membersof Sao Paulo's civil police organizeda famousdeathsquadcalledthe Esquadrao daMorte.Be- cause they were underthe jurisdictionof the civil police, judges and public

prosecutorswere able to bring them

under military dictator-


ecutorshave also been able to enforcethe articleof the 1988 constitutionthat considerstorturea crimenot subject to bail or executive clemency.They have brought civil police officers to trial,and thereare indicationsthattorturehas diminishedsomewhatin Sao Paulo's civil police precincts(Americas Watch


officers accused of crimes

against civilians. This evi-

concerned, butlax if the question is themurderof civilians. ' Theconclusion

civilians, and

to trial-even

ultimatelyto dismantlethe

squad. In recentyears,judges and pros-

In sum, althoughunderdemocraticrule, the currentorganization of police


institutions largelymaintainsthatestablished by the militaryregime. This

stitutionalframeworkin large measureassuresthe impunity of extralegal ac-

tions by the police-especially

the militarypolice, the principalrep