The Pacifying Police
Security through Brutality
Amid the waves of mass protests analyzed in the previous chapter, a case of police brutality against a resident of the largest favela in Rio gained national attention. This chapter examines this case as an example of the challenges that supposedly innovative democratic public security policies encounter when applied to historical Black areas. To do so, it examines the new security paradigm implemented in Rio in 2008, which had in the Pacifying Police Units (UPPs in Portuguese) its main practical innovation and symbol. Here i analyze the UPPs’ location, paying attention to Rio’s racialized geographies; the language, implied meanings, and practices of pacification; and the seeming broad public consensus about the new security paradigm’s effectiveness. Next, i focus on the actual improvements with which the UPPs can be credited. The results are mixed at best. While there has been a recorded decrease in violent deaths, bodily injuries have increased. To make sense of these apparently contradictory trends, drawing on my own ethnography and the specialized literature, i zero in on the social climate within pacified communities and provide explanations for the rise in bodily injury in the context of diminishing instances of recorded lethal violence. This discussion prepares for an examination of the specific ways members of the new police interact with local residents of pacified communities. Instructed to appease rather than to repress, and trained in human rights, how do UPP officers make sense of the new policies? What are their views of the favelas and their inhabitants? How, if at all, have the UPPs changed the historical antagonistic relationship between the police and Black people? Based on recent qualitative studies conducted with UPP personnel and community members, it is evident that low-ranking cops still harbor negative perceptions of favela dwellers. While police commanders and the civilian secretary of public security affirm the new police’s communitarian, democratic, and human-rights-based approach, the rank and file feels they elicit no respect in the communities they patrol, and view favela residents with suspicion.
The chapter proceeds with a discussion on the intractable question of blackness, and how it explains both the shortcomings of the UPPs and Amarildo’s death. And finally, analyzing multiracial forms of protest against the disappearance and assumed death of Amarildo de Souza, this chapter wraps up by interrogating these manifestations of nonblack recognition of Black suffering, their assumptions, meanings, and consequences. This concluding section prepares the synthetic discussion about the people-of-color ethos, multiraciality, oblique identification, and the attempts at redeeming empire-states in the Black diaspora that structures the next two chapters.
By focusing on the UPP security paradigm and its effects on historically Black areas, i aim to not only interrogate the ways in which this paradigm furthers (and possibly challenges) Black exclusion; i also want to analyze Black people’s evaluation of public security policy in Rio in light of the informed skepticism Black people conveyed by not participating in the mass protests and by carrying out rolezinhos. As important, i want to explore how such manifestations of informed skepticism resonate with incarcerated Black kids in Austin, who recognized, in their personal and collective trajectories, a structure of exclusion that differentiated their experience from that of nonblack kids. This structure of exclusion, whose manifestations transcend borders of empire-states, is diasporic antiblackness. As this chapter will show, diasporic Black suffering is at times recognized by nonblacks. Yet this recognition seldom includes the awareness of how fundamental, structural, ubiquitous, and unique antiblackness really is. As antiblackness is diasporic, so is oblique identification.
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Amarildo de Souza, resident of the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha, was last seen alive on the night of July 14, 2013. A construction worker, married, and father of six, Amarildo was at a bar (Bar do Júlio) when eight police officers, commanded by officer Douglas Roberto Vital Machado (known as Vital), took him to a police post (Unidade de Policiamento de Proximidade). There, Elizabete Gomes da Silva, Amarildo’s wife, unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the officers from taking Amarildo to the headquarters of the Pacifying Police Unit (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, UPP). Images caught by a security camera placed in front of the police post, and broadcast by TV Globo on August 9, 2013, show Amarildo leaving the building escorted by officers and being placed in a police car. Elizabete is seen running toward the police vehicle and pleading with the officers.
The three-minute ride up the hill must have been tense for Amarildo. The UPP compound, fashioned out of six converted cargo containers, sits relatively isolated at the top of the community, in an area flanked by thick vegetation and no houses. In that community, as in others where this new model of policing was implemented, it was well-known that, contrary to the overwhelmingly positive press coverage about UPPs throughout the city of Rio de Janeiro, UPP officers engaged in routine acts of abuse against locals. Hence Elizabete’s desperation. Although there was speculation that the officers suspected Amarildo knew the whereabouts of drugs in the neighborhood, and that the officers were trying to force Amarildo to provide the information, the exact motivation for what followed is not yet known. What is known, through investigative reporting and sworn testimonies, is this: once in the compound, Amarildo was tortured with Taser guns, asphyxiated with a plastic bag, and had his head submerged in a water-filled bucket. Lieutenant Medeiros, Sergeant Gonçalves, and Officers Vital and Maia participated in the torture. Major Édson dos Santos, the commanding officer, oversaw the activities from his cubicle in an adjacent container. Other officers on duty were forced to stay inside the containers and hear the terrible sounds. One female officer covered her ears and said to her colleagues that what was being done to Amarildo should not be done even “to an animal.” According to this officer, the torture lasted about forty minutes. Then silence. Then laughter.
While twelve officers surrounded the containers to isolate them from residents and other officers, Amarildo perished. His body, wrapped in plastic and tape, was removed from the police station through an opening in the roof, and temporarily placed in the bushes behind the compound. To conceal the body’s removal, one of the female officers turned off the lights outside the UPP.
Amarildo’s Death and the New Security Paradigm
Amarildo’s case is an opening into a complex, and strange, political crossroads. To signal a transitioning from authoritarian, corrupt, and excluding forms of social management to more democratic and inclusive governance, in 2008 the state of Rio de Janeiro’s administration established a new paradigm of public security. The new paradigm was primarily aimed at reclaiming urban territory from the control of drug dealers, and in the process increase social services in communities historically marked by the negative presence, or complete absence, of the state. The UPPs became the main primary innovation and symbol of this alleged paradigm shift. State governor Sérgio Cabral and public security secretary José Mariano Beltrame invested much of their political capital on this initiative. The plan was to combat violence while constructing or improving schools, health clinics, day care centers, public transportation, and sanitation. Under the aegis of UPPs, these communities—impoverished and working class, disproportionately Black, yet close to airports and freeways, surrounded by mostly white and tourist areas—would also witness the dismantling of the long-dominant drug-dealing paramilitary organizations and the corrupt and brutal police force. In their stead, officers oriented toward human rights and community accountability were to inaugurate local trust in the police and the state.
A few words on the language of “pacification” are required. When i use “pacification,” i will be interrogating the assumptions about the people and the area on which pacification is to be imposed. I take pacification as a trope indicative of the political moment. Invoking a just war, pacification campaigns require clear lines defining danger versus safety, corruption versus virtue, totalitarianism versus democracy, and exclusion versus belonging, among other dichotomies. Notice how such dyads resonate with the ways rolezinhos were represented in the dominant news media and by nonblack, especially middle- and upper-class Whites. At its most basic, pacification defines an enemy and the communities that produce and harbor the enemy. These communities—mostly the historical Black areas known as favelas—become battle theaters on which the just war is carried out. Implicit but powerful is the understanding that, unless contained, the evils defining such geographies will spill over, affecting the already challenged surrounding areas. Although narratives supporting pacification often focused on the favela dwellers’ involuntary submission to the local drug dealers, it was understood that, left unchecked, terror emanating from favelas as zones of evil would continue to victimize all the city’s residents and its visitors.
Indeed, large-scale, spectacular police operations designed to reclaim embattled territory from drug commerce gained prominence as the city embarked on pharaonic construction projects aiming at neighborhood “revitalization,” transportation, sport facilities, and tourism improvements in preparation for the 2013 Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympic Games. Specifically, the 2010 takeover of Vila Cruzeiro and the Complexo do Alemão were watershed moments that forcefully signaled the new political climate and its public-safety paradigm shift. Drawing on 350-plus men and women from the Special Operations Division (Batalhão de Operações Especiais, BOPE), regular police officers, and military personnel, the November 25, 2010, Vila Cruzeiro operation marked the state’s much-publicized successful reclaiming of the area. After an initial futile attempt at resistance, the alleged drug dealers fled. Live television footage showed about two hundred heavily armed young men leaving the neighborhood and making their way to the adjoining communities known as Complexo do Alemão. Three days later, an estimated 2,600 BOPE agents, civil and military police, and army and navy troops took over the Complexo do Alemão without resistance.
The new chapter in public security was a complex, if unprecedented, political moment characterized by what seemed like broad public support. An apparently powerful consensus not only approved the favela takeovers but also demanded more such operations. While public officials boasted their triumph over well-armed drug cartels, news media organizations, including openly supportive anchors and reporters, pundits, researchers, and academics, joined in a celebratory chorus. Even the people of the affected areas, traditionally reticent about state interventions, were said to approve the takeovers. In a 2010 survey conducted by O Globo with six hundred residents of UPP communities before the Vila Cruzeiro and Alemão occupations, 93 percent felt safe or very safe. Among six hundred residents of disadvantaged areas without UPPs, 48 percent considered their communities unsafe; 70 percent were “supportive” or “very supportive” of having a UPP in their neighborhood.
What these surveys reflect accurately is not so much what was actually happening in pacified communities, but rather the impressive social consensus about pacification. A robust, popular, cross-class mandate for the implementation of UPPs had come to define Rio’s political climate. This broad support was based on the appearance of a widespread desire for pacification—not exactly a new fact given Rio’s long-term troubled relation with favelas and their people—and, more important, the initial UPPs’ seeming effectiveness. Well-coordinated narratives coming from officials, the news media, and reputable research centers played an important role in assuring the political climate and its defining consensus.
For example, during the Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão occupation operations, news reporters embedded in the police and military formations provided accounts of the confrontation with the alleged bandits as it unfolded. Media conglomerates such as TV Globo and Record employed helicopters to inform the public and deliver additional real-time intelligence to the officers presiding over the drug dealers’ expulsion. And in the studio, sympathetic news anchors, security analysts, academics, and politicians gave expert descriptions of the operations, their positive social and political consequences, and how they augured the dawn of a new Rio. Since these impoverished areas were considered the “headquarters of crime,” it was hoped that the directly affected communities, and the city as a whole, would immediately experience sharp drops in robberies, shootings, and kidnappings. Pacified, these communities would be unable to generate and spread their evils.
Studies conducted in the midst of this optimistic climate tended to accentuate dramatic and positive changes. In contrast to areas still dominated by drug organizations, reports indicated that UPP community residents felt safer and unfettered to talk about any topic, including the police. Now that intense gunfire and lost bullets, and as important, coercion from drug dealers, were mostly events of the past, residents felt greater liberty to come and go. Due to a noticeable decrease in the availability of heavy weaponry, and the marked presence of the new police, the drug dealing that continued was not as widespread or violent as it was previously. Indeed, many residents of UPP communities noticed how the until recently quotidian display of automatic weapons by those associated with the drug bureaucracies had almost vanished. Since UPP neighborhoods were now again state territories (as opposed to semi-autonomous zones where the state’s presence—and lack of presence—was often criticized), gone were the anxieties about the prospect of drug turf wars and their violent, often lethal, collateral consequences.
Fading Optimism, Accumulated Disadvantages, and Vulnerability to Violence: The Social Climate in UPP Communities
A closer look at these available studies and data, as well as my own ethnographic observations, reveal greater variation of opinions in the UPP communities than the dominant political climate suggested. To access such nuances, however, is no easy task. On the one hand, dominant positive and optimistic assumptions about pacification, and on the other, the default negative hegemonic representations about Black spaces and peoples that are the fundamental object of pacification, present considerable analytical and ideological challenges to a critique of UPPs. I have been severely reprimanded by colleagues and audience members, in England, the United States, and Brazil, when presenting what i consider to be a measured critique of UPPs; and i have had texts rejected by anonymous reviewers who found it inconceivable to (a) link UPPs to race, and blackness specifically, and thus (b) focus on the ways the state apparatus and social actors enact forms of antiblackness. Personal experience makes for an avowedly weak case about a larger pattern. Yet the academic critiques colleagues and i have encountered, and the generalized optimism about UPPs that transpired through the news media and statements by pundits and academics, seem to be related phenomena.
To speak of nuances in UPP communities is to acknowledge temporary pragmatic improvements and lingering problems. First let us consider the most obvious aspects of the improvements, which for good reasons fueled the broad consensus about the new social security paradigm. Between 2008 and 2011, among the first thirteen pacified communities, the number of violent deaths diminished 75 percent. While homicides diminished at a more modest pace, from 0.35 to 0.15 average occurrences per month, deaths during police activity (euphemistically registered as “Resistance Acts,” or Autos de Resistência), decreased from 0.5 per month to almost zero. To account for variations in community size and the different points in time when UPPs were implemented, rates of occurrences per hundred thousand inhabitants per month, considering numbers collected before and after pacification, offer a more reliable indicator. According to such rates, violent deaths go from 10.03 to 2.21, homicides from 3.37 to 0.87, and Resistance Acts from 5.70 to 0.12.
The fall in violent deaths, in both absolute and relative terms, is a compelling explanation for the optimistic climate discernible in news media, mass opinion surveys, and political and academic influential circles. Even considering that trends within UPP communities reflected trends already underway for the city of Rio as a whole prior to 2009—that is, prior to pacification—the decrease in violent deaths in UPP communities was nevertheless more intense than in the city overall, as studies have shown. Based on the overall decrease of lethal violence, on average, every two months there was one less victim of lethal violence in each of the UPP communities. This is the equivalent of a net decrease of sixty victims of violent death per hundred thousand inhabitants per year.
A likely explanation for this improvement is that pacification meant a drastic reduction, or even the actual end, of armed confrontations between the police and drug dealers. Without these confrontations, which also often affected residents not involved in the drug trade—a complaint favela dwellers and activists repeatedly formulated—and the effective reclaiming of the state’s monopoly of violence, the exchange of gunfire became far less common. A marked change in UPP communities was the end of the quotidian scenes in which young men associated with the drug commerce circulated in their communities, by foot or on motorcycles, unencumbered, displaying guns and high-powered automatic weapons.
Such display of local militarized power was the case in the early 2000s, when i had to negotiate my entrance into the Jacarezinho community several times every week. To collaborate with local activists who were engaged in denouncing police abuse, i had to make my way to the neighborhood association, a two-story house located in a central area of the favela, at the top of a hill. Between the association and the bus stop in front of one of the favela’s main entrances, next to a fetid canal sheathed in concrete, there was a barricade made of bricks, empty metal containers, old car parts, and chains. Standing guard in front of the barricade would be three, sometimes four boys no older than fourteen. Barefoot, raggedy, and as apprehensive as the people they routinely stopped and interrogated, they had become accustomed to my presence. “Neighborhood association, right, Uncle?” they would say, carelessly holding up their automatic rifle. Upon my confirmation, a short dialogue would ensue. Often, i would be asked if i knew of jobs “downtown,” or if there was something they could do for me for a modest compensation (pay bills, escort visitors in or outside Jacarezinho, arrange meals, etc.). They feared their days were numbered, which revealed a relationship with the drug commerce bureaucracy that is very different than what mass news media and even specialized studies proposed. Instead of the glamour and status that supposedly came with the drug-related occupation, there was constant preoccupation about routine confrontations with the police and competing cartels, leading to injury, arrest, and death.
Jacarezinho, the second largest favela in Rio, was at that point heavily barricaded. Waist-high concrete blocks and seven-foot-tall steel gates protecting strategic points marked the drug dealers’ supremacy over the territory. Contrary to the accusations we frequently heard in the news from “favela experts,” the neighborhood association did not have formal ties with the dealers. Its members and i, in an effort to diminish violence, were engaged in monitoring the police and drug transactions, especially the former. For a short period, favela countersurveillance of the police and drug transactions was performed via security cameras operated by the neighborhood association.
A routinized state of war prevailed. The favela’s unique status as a territory governed by an autonomous and parastatal organization was made evident in the scenes described above and many others. Even state officials, when visiting Jacarezinho upon accepting our invitation to see and understand our work of preventing police abuse (then vilified by journalists, politicians, and academics), had to submit to the local rules. Their chauffeured cars would be parked in a designated area while the officials would coyly make their way, by foot, to a bar or another public place we had chosen. Meanwhile, heavily armed young men passed by, on foot or motorcycles, in an apparent show of force and supremacy. In their cool demeanor, they unmistakably indicated they owned that territory. The state and its dignitaries were not only mere invitees—while in Jacarezinho they were under the young men’s jurisdiction. I vividly remember one such meeting that took place with a sympathetic high state official over beers one night. While her driver sat uncomfortably in the official car parked two hundred yards away from the noisy bar and a thick crowd of young people socializing and enjoying the music, the official, prodded by one of the locals, looked up. The dealers’ automatic weapons’ laser beams had formed a strange spectacle of crossing red and green rays in the sky. Onlookers were reminded of the dealers’ ubiquitous presence, their might, and our complete submission to this high-tech paramilitary, antistate formation with power over life and death and almost everything else in between. The strange spectacle was also evidence of a powerful war machine, one confident enough to allow visitor status to those representing the state.
I offer this ethnographic vignette because it is indicative of a time-specific political climate. In the early 2000s, the state was unwilling to conclusively take over dissident territory. In Jacarezinho, for example, even though a police station had been installed in the community, the dealers’ supremacy was not structurally challenged. Indeed, the police officers stationed in favelas, continuing a trend that had become commonplace, were beneficiaries of, and therefore willing participants in, the drug trade. By charging commissions from dealers so that the drug commerce would remain unperturbed, the officers had a stake in the trade. They offered the acquiescence, indeed the protection, of the state. This arrangement explains these seemingly incongruous scenes: on the one hand, the institutionalized presence of the police in the community; on the other, the drug dealers’ barricades isolating Jacarezinho and the normalization of drug transactions in that territory. There were frequent flare-ups between dissatisfied police and dealers, between dealers of different factions, and incursions by BOPE personnel, which caused the fatalities of those directly involved and of residents. Yet such was the political order of things; the neighborhood was governed by its own rules and interests involving drug dealers and the police, and for this simple reason it was hardly challenged.
By contrast, in Chapéu Mangueira, where a UPP was established in 2009, police officers were the only visible bearers of weapons. In 2011 and 2012 i visited the neighborhood occasionally and became acquainted with some of its residents. Police officers could be seen from almost anywhere in the small hillside community about two hundred yards from Leme beach, better known as Benedita da Silva’s birth place (and where she still maintains a house).
Before i continue with the analysis of UPP communities, of which Chapéu Mangueira is an example, let me propose a working definition of social climate. Once we are able to grasp the social climate in occupied favelas, we will gain a finer understanding of the circumstances under which Amarildo’s death took place.
By social climate i mean shared representations, sentiments, and interpersonal practices that give meaning to, acquiesce with, and perhaps challenge the new order. The social climate engages and is affected by (although it is obviously not restricted to) the technologies of control, surveillance, and community relations UPPs inaugurate. Social representations and practices, and technologies of social management, in turn, happen in embattled geographical actualizations of historical patterns of inequality, of which social class dynamics and gendered modalities of antiblackness are central. Social climate, then, refers to the collective outcomes emanating from the ways people negotiate forms of control under circumstances not of their choosing. Neither drug cartels nor UPPs are products of favela demands. UPPs are, after all, initiatives that come from the top and from the outside: they are the product of state interventions that have no input from local residents. Drug dealers, on the other hand, are usually well-known in such communities—at once respected, feared, and despised. This close relationship is part of the reason their totalitarian and often brutal form of governance is tolerated (the main reason, of course, is the dealers’ effective monopoly of violence). Still, they are recognized as local benefactors and as products of the same historical and social exclusion that defines residents’ lives. Without the support of drug dealers, many day care centers, educational and recreational programs, health posts, sports facilities, samba schools, music and dance parties, and a litany of other cultural and political initiatives would simply not exist in favelas. Dealers fund these initiatives and/or allow them to take place.
Based on recent ethnographies (including my own), qualitative studies, and news media reporting (principally those not aligned with the local monopolies), the social climate in UPP communities, given the recent momentous changes, in the early 2010s was one marked by a combination of fading optimism, uncertainty, and vulnerability. In Chapéu Mangueira, for example, while the people with whom i interacted recognized the positive changes, they were nevertheless skeptical that the UPPs would remain effective beyond 2016, after the Olympic Games. Although residents mentioned with some fondness their relationship with members of the drug organization that ruled the neighborhood—relationships that ranged from casual friendship to close kin—they were generally appreciative of the expulsion of long-established cartels. Gone were the frequent gunfire, the turf disputes, the confrontations between dealers and the police, and dealers’ control over and occasional aggression against residents. (Police aggression against residents, also a ubiquitous aspect of favela life, will be examined below.) Whereas the drug cartel imposed strict lines of socialization, prohibiting contact with communities whose territories belonged to competing factions, after UPPs came about, for the first time in people’s memory, it was possible to walk through and socialize in the adjoining Babilônia neighborhood.
A new ecological park had recently opened at the crest of Babilônia, something unthinkable during the drug gang’s hegemony. A woman in her fifties who had lived in Chapéu Mangueira for most of her life, along with her adult daughter, guided two friends and me through Babilônia and toward the park. They remarked on the novelty of their freedom to circulate through that area. Walking up the steep trail, through scattering houses, and briefly pausing at a few explanatory signs neatly placed on the ground by plants and trees, we admired the vegetation, rocks, and occasional fauna. At a resting point, while marveling at the Botafogo Bay below, and contemplating an almost vertical rock formation that abruptly marked the end of the northern part of the walkable part of the hill, the mother reminded us that the site had been where dealers tortured, killed, and dumped bodies.
Things were changing rapidly in the early 2010s. Fading enthusiasm coexisted with an enduring awareness of vulnerability and a newfound nostalgia for quickly disintegrating social networks. The family i was acquainted with—four generations dividing a three-story house (soon to be four stories) centrally located in Chapéu Mangueira—shared the country’s widespread optimism and yet cautiously, even skeptically, remarked on the UPP presence. Unprecedented access to credit and consumer goods, educational opportunities (especially at the university level), and a sense of economic possibilities dominated conversations and the general mood. The adult daughter and her husband, who lived with their three-year-old on the house’s top floor, were first-generation college-educated; the daughter worked at a government agency and was planning on postgraduate studies, perhaps abroad, while the husband, a filmmaker and a college student, made a living freelancing. The late-fifties father, who for decades had been a doorman at a building in nearby Copacabana, and the mother, a domestic worker who also headed a Pentecostal denomination that met on the house’s ground level, seemed content with their station in life. Their daughters were doing well (the older one lived in another big southeastern city); their house was expanding, and they could afford construction materials, including window frames, that until then were superfluous items. The window frames still did not have glass, but the house had new-looking appliances: washing machine, microwave, stereo, and at least a couple of televisions. From the family’s rooftop, where we once had a barbecue with friends, against the sliver of ocean piercing through the middle-class apartment buildings that stood between the beach and the community one could see a proliferation of similarly expanding houses: freshly laid bricks announcing a soon-to-be new level, satellite dishes, well-kept cement narrow streets and stairs, all symbolizing the moment of local relative prosperity.
Whether that family had the formal ownership of the house—a rare occurrence in areas such as favelas, where auto-construction on unclaimed land are defining features—i am uncertain. What is certain is that the reigning cautious and fading optimism coexisted with the evidence of rapid transformation and dissolution of decades-old local networks. Hostels for European, North American, Asian, Australian, and New Zealander young people were mushrooming, as were side businesses targeting this new audience, now more common than ever in the neighborhood. These businesses offered homemade meals, transportation and laundry services, and Portuguese, capoeira, surf, soccer, beach volleyball, and futevolei lessons.
Residents remarked on the velocity with which longtime neighbors, lured by cash offers for their arduously self-constructed houses, left the neighborhood for distant areas, sometimes settling in suburban and even rural communities that rendered continued contact with Chapéu Mangueira residents difficult at best. So, although there was a certain pride in the fact that their long-stigmatized area was now the object of avid real estate and business speculation, and that it had become a tourist destination, there was also a sense of loss—a feeling of community disintegration that ironically happened at the same time as the long-desired integration into the city. The irony, of course, was that, with integration into the asphalted city imminent, many of the people who had struggled through a lifetime of deprivation and perseverance to build the physical and social neighborhood were now quickly vanishing. Displacement, then, was not only a process that affected your neighbor. You could very well be the next one unable to refuse a cash offer. Or, as it happened in other favelas, the entrance of the state, and along with it the formal capitalist market, also meant the formalization of services that were considerably more expensive than the ones previously available. If UPPs brought the possibility of sanctioned home and land ownership, along with the extension of electric, water, gas, and garbage services, it also meant the end of the affordable, extralegal gato era. Gato, as a noun, described the informal and improvised connection between one’s house and the city’s wires. And quite appropriately, Gatonet was the actual underground company that provided cable and Internet services at a much lower price than the formal market options. With the end of the gato era, so, too, ended the unofficial availability of a number of services at low prices (or even free).
Despite the sense of economic prosperity, the selling of a family’s house in a favela is unlikely to bring about a marked improvement in the lives of those immediately benefiting from the sale. Rio de Janeiro, specifically, represented then one of the most expensive and inflated real-estate markets in the world. It is unlikely that the cash obtained with the sale will generate added wealth, especially if the sum is divided among family members. As important, moving away from centrally located impoverished neighborhoods means giving up relatively easy access to the public transportation, better-quality public schools, hospitals, health clinics, and commerce that result from the favela’s proximity to middle- and upper-class areas of Leme, Copacabana, and Ipanema. Indeed, the farther one moves away from predominantly White areas, the lower the quality of public services and infrastructure will be. Paradoxically, then, the sale of a family’s house in a UPP community will likely lead to further transgenerational disadvantages.
The Increase in Registered Bodily Injury
It was in this context of marked changes (whose intensity of course varied depending on the UPP community), including the near elimination of violent deaths, that the puzzling increase in recorded bodily injuries—along with a series of other nonlethal crimes such as rape, domestic violence, threats (ameaças), and robberies—took place. What accounts for these increases in bodily injury? In what follows, i will briefly explore plausible answers. My intent is not so much to formulate a definitive explanation, but rather to use these numbers as proxies for the social climate within UPP communities. The provisory explanations that appear below are presented as windows into complex and shifting social environments that witness dramatic reductions in lethality but are, nonetheless, defined by long-term forms of uncertainty and vulnerability. To engage with this new social reality, we should ask ourselves the same question i repeatedly heard from residents of recently pacified communities: How long will the UPPs last? When will intense drug commerce, dealers, and their social rules return? Are UPP officers in fact more humane and respectful than their predecessors? Will our lives improve?
While the rule of law is formally introduced in those neighborhoods, a high degree of vulnerability persists. It is not only vulnerability to violence as suggested by the reports of bodily injury. Just as important, and despite pre-2015 economic developments brought about by the redistributive polices of the Workers’ Party federal administrations, we must keep in mind that these majority Black communities are still defined by transgenerational disadvantages, including poverty. Whereas access to credit and increases in personal and family income were indeed widespread prior to the economic downturn of the second Rousseff mandate, they did little to affect the accumulated disadvantages of wealth across generations. Even though it is widely celebrated that Blacks constitute the majority of the new middle classes, Blacks are also unmistakably overrepresented among the impoverished.
One plausible explanation for the increase in bodily injury is that the arrival of the UPPs, which generates a considerable increase in the police officer per inhabitant ratio, facilitates the formalization of complaints. While there is an average of 18.2 police officers per thousand residents for the first thirteen UPP communities (with wide variations among them), there are only 2.3 police officers per thousand residents for the state of Rio as a whole. Since police officers can supposedly assist victims in the process of registering crime, the increase in victimization may be due to an increase in reporting (or, as demographers would say, a decrease in underreporting).
The increase in reporting can also be due to the challenge UPPs present against the strong social control drug factions exerted on those communities. Part of that control was to discourage contact with and reliance on the formal justice system. Greater reporting, thus, suggests a transition from local and informal law (dominated by drug commerce bureaucracies) to the official rule of law.
Another possible answer is that, with the end of the overt control of drug cartels, and the demise of the social norms of justice they imposed via a combination of coercion, consent, and custom, UPP communities begin to experience greater social anomie, of which interpersonal violence is one manifestation. Without the presence and mediation of the “owners of the hill” (donos do morro), and the ubiquitous presence of a foreign police force (which reinforces the perception of the current radical cultural and political shift), disputes multiply and the increase in interpersonal violence is, at least in part, channeled through formal justice mechanisms.
Yet another explanation requires a longer analysis and takes us back to Amarildo’s case. Expanding on the three possible answers above, this fourth synthetic explanation zeroes in on the social climate resulting from pacification efforts. Specifically, it explores the relationship between UPP community inhabitants and the new police.
While Amarildo’s murder may be read as an aberration in an otherwise new era of improved community–police relations, when informed by recent studies his ordeal allows for drawing hypothetical connections between it and long-term patterns of police disrespect. Read against the grain of the fading but still strong support for UPPs in the early 2010s, and improvements notwithstanding, these studies, particularly their qualitative findings, lend themselves to the following hypothetical proposition: Rather than constituting an unmistakable rupture, a paradigm shift in public security, the UPP initiative falls in a continuum according to which residents of disadvantaged, historically Black communities and the police, especially the rank and file, are in an antagonistic relationship. This relationship is structurally unequal, disrespectful, violent, and often lethal. Allied to the persistence of accumulated economic disadvantages that resist (and indeed may be even aided by) the entry of the state and formal market into favelas, police abuse is not a cause but a symptom of a social climate in favelas whose main characteristic is persistent and multifaceted vulnerability. Such vulnerability is of an economic nature, but not only; it is social vulnerability brought about by the dislocation (or threat of dislocation) of neighbors and one’s family; it is vulnerability to violence permitted or engendered by the new police; and it is vulnerability to a host of factors associated with the structured and gendered aspects of antiblackness that translate into diminished life chances and early death by preventable causes. Social dynamics reflect the antiblack structure of positionalities. Police abuse, thus, can be considered an important factor contributing to and reflecting a social climate defined by Black vulnerability. In the case of Amarildo’s murder, the historical and enduring police abuse is not an abnormality; rather, it confirms the persistence of an antiblack logic whose most obvious manifestation is vulnerability to state-sanctioned violent death.
To be sure, the above is a controversial statement. How can this new police force that guarantees the rule of law, keeps drug cartels at bay, and brings about the virtual end of lethal violence be held responsible for continuing patterns of disrespect and abuse they purport to have eliminated?
Despite the new public security paradigm’s emphasis on a human-rights oriented, communitarian, and overall improved policing approach, there remain structural and historical dynamics of police disrespect toward the Black and impoverished. Amarildo’s assassination, when contextualized in recent ethnographic and qualitative studies, suggests that the new public security policy, although celebrated widely, does not translate into an effective change in the perception police officers—even those trained to appease rather than repress—have of favelas and their people. The reluctance UPP officers demonstrate in accepting their roles as conciliators rather than repressors suggests deep-seated antiblack dispositions that are impermeable to short-term training.
Extensive interviews with UPP officers conducted by sociologist Ignacio Cano’s team are instructive. They reveal officers’ dissatisfaction that is practical and ideological in nature, and suggest that Amarildo’s death, rather than an aberration, fits the current narratives of police discontent and the historical antiblack nature of policing.
At a practical level, many officers assigned to UPP communities complain about pay and the conditions in which they have to work. As was the case in Rocinha, UPP police posts are often improvised accommodations, built from metal shipping containers in which doors and windows are cut out. They are frequently too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter; air-conditioners are not common. Bathroom facilities are precarious or nonexistent. And because these new posts are built in densely populated neighborhoods where space is at a premium, they are usually found in the less desirable areas where access is difficult. To make matters more complicated, officers often live far away from UPP communities, especially the UPPs located in the central and southern parts of Rio. Not only does the distance increase the length of one’s workday, but transportation costs are an additional burden to the officer’s budget. In theory, in 2014 UPP officers received a R$ 500 monthly bonus. In practice, however, this bonus became another source of frustration. Each month it was taxed at a variable rate, making it difficult to know exactly one’s salary. And worse, it was often late. In contrast, in 2014 regular Military Police officers received a R$ 350 monthly bonus that was at least more reliable.
More important than the practical concerns, UPP officers express ideological disagreements with the new public security policy. Specifically, many low-ranked cops hold the perception that favela residents are either gang members or support gangs—and so they act accordingly. We’ll engage the officers’ views below. For now, it is instructive to hear residents’ descriptions of police officers’ practices. A twenty-two-year-old resident of Cidade de Deus, a large favela in the western part of the city, remarked on how, on the one hand, the UPP brought temporary peace, but on the other, “the officers are unprepared and come with thoughts about who lives in this community that are completely wrong. They still act like the old cops that every now and then raided the neighborhood. They are young, very young . . . but with the same messed-up mind-set [as mesmas safadezas].” Another twenty-two-year-old, a woman resident of Morro dos Macacos, a UPP community in the Maracanã stadium region, noted of the new cops, “When they are patting down people, they are already hitting us. I’ve seen this near my house. They say, ‘Stay there, we got you’ [‘Encosta ai, acabou’]. They intimidate and provoke, ask for your ID. . . . They do this until they find something.” More brutal than, but akin to, the stop-and-frisk approach made infamous in New York City, these intimidation practices contradict the narratives that differentiate the UPP paradigm from the truculent Military Police.
Lingering conflicts between the police and locals relate to the police rank-and-file resistance against the pacifying project, which they interpret as part of a political game that seeks short-term news media visibility and approval rather than long-lasting change; and deeply ingrained notions about the role of the police vis-à-vis historically Black areas. Below, i expand on these two sources of conflict, taking into account the police officers’ own thoughts.
Low-level officers see the UPP initiative as part of a political game whose objective is not to improve the police or the communities, but rather to benefit politicians, their parties, and related special interests. These officers complain about what they consider objectionable political theater by pointing to their uniform. “The uniform,” says one UPP officer, “is completely inadequate to work in a favela [morro], because we go up and down stairs, jump, climb houses.” Another officer elaborates: “Light-colored slacks, man, how are you going to use this to walk in the middle of the bush? Look at how raggedy my pants are already! That’s what I’m talking about. We have the worst conditions, the worst.” It is thus not surprising that 70 percent of officers interviewed in a study believe the UPPs were created not to bring about long-lasting change, but to generate a sense of security for mega sport events like the Confederations Cup, the World Cup, and the Olympic Games. Residents of UPP communities, as noted above, share this view.
The fact is that most officers do not like working in UPP communities. A 2011 survey applied to a representative sample of UPP cops showed that 70 percent would rather be stationed in a traditional Military Police battalion.
At play here is a shared perception of the police that is antithetical to the UPP project. Young people, and especially cisheteronormative men, join the police expecting to repress and control communities rather than establish cordial relations with them. They see the role of the police as chasing and shooting at bandits rather than mediating local conflicts. In their minds, arrests and armed confrontation sum up the attraction they have for the differentiated role of the police. As one officer who was more understanding of the UPP project stated, “Everyone enters the police to exchange gunfire and make arrests. They think this [UPP patrolling] is not police work, but I see it as the same work.” According to this logic, it makes sense that most UPP officers conflate the communitarian approach to a second-class type of policing, one devoid of the bellicose mystique that attracted them to the profession in the first place.
Officers stationed in pacifying units resent what they perceive as lack of respect from locals, who call them “UPP” rather than “officer” (policial). This is interesting because it suggests the officers perceive in the more horizontal relation UPPs try to forge with the community the source of their disrespected status. Absent the proactive, military occupation–like stance, UPP officers see themselves in the eyes of the locals as, at best, decoration (enfeite). Since officers are most of the time patrolling the area on foot, and wear a uniform that conveys a civilian rather than military position, they feel restricted in what they call their “liberty to act.” “In the [Military Police] battalion,” an officer said, “there is a better system, there’s liberty to work. To tell you the truth, people respect you more.” On the issue of liberty, which stands as an index of one’s autonomy and discretion, another officer elaborated: “In the streets things are different than here [a UPP area]. Here, anything you do, someone will pull out their phone and will record you. . . . In the streets, if you stop a car, you think the car is suspect, you get your gun out because you don’t know what’s coming. . . . Here, you can’t do that, because someone will film you and next thing you know it’s on TV. Why? Precisely because of all this politics.” The orientation coming from the top, as the officers narrate it, is one that stresses conflict resolution and the avoidance of negative news coverage. In an unprecedented political climate marked by an apparently robust popular consensus about the current public security policy, it is not surprising that the police high brass is so concerned with the UPP’s public image. Yet here lies an important contradiction. To the rank and file, the appeasement orientation and the concern about news media translate into politics—here conceived negatively as short-term, lacking substance, and special-interest driven. In other words, there is a symbolic short circuit between the theoretically more democratic form of policing the UPP paradigm is attempting to implement, and the low-ranking officers’ perceptions of how the police should behave in historically Black impoverished neighborhoods. The language of conciliation and citizenship does not harmonize with the antiblack and truculent orientations of most police recruits.
An Announced Death: The Intractable Questions of Blackness and Antiblackness
UPP agents’ expectations and frustrations are products of the social construction of the police role, and a deeper, historically constituted set of social representations about Black spaces and people that define favelas. As stated by an officer stationed in a pacified community:
Society has the wrong idea of the community. It thinks that the criminals in favelas are only 2 percent of the population, but this is wrong. They may be 2 percent, but there are those who are associated with drug dealing. Why? We say the criminal is a product of the community, they have relatives there, father, mother, cousin. So when something happens, who do you think these folks will side with? With the police or with the criminals? The person who grew up in a favela for sure is going to side with [those people] who grew up in the favela, so you can bet 60 percent of the population is against pacification.
As is culturally mandated in an alleged racial democracy, the language of race does not emerge explicitly; yet race, and blackness in particular, is coded and well understood as the mostly silent yet highly effective signifier of favelas. In the social imaginary, as in demographic studies, favelas are indeed disproportionately Black spaces. Blackness is the default parameter according to which favelas, and the activities that are thought to characterize them, gain meaning. In the officer’s statement above, criminality is not restricted to the actual criminals, but includes their networks of kin and friends, and therefore pervades the entire community. Add blackness to the officer’s analysis, and the proposition is quite forceful: as Black spaces, favelas not only produce but also harbor and reproduce crime. And if you still find questionable the centrality of blackness in normative references to impoverished urban spaces, consider the following 2007 pronouncement from Rio de Janeiro state governor Sérgio Cabral: “I am in favor of women interrupting an undesired pregnancy. . . . You look at the number of children born in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, Tijuca, Méier, and in Copacabana [elite neighborhoods], it’s a Swedish standard. Now, you look at Rocinha [a favela in the southern part of Rio]. It is Zambia, Gabon standards. That is a criminal assembly line, an industry of criminals.” Even though Cabral’s statement is about his view on abortion, specifically his eugenic defense of it for impoverished Black women, it voices the dominant perspective on Rio’s racialized geographies and its residents. By linking Rocinha to Zambia and Gabon, two African nations, Cabral confirms the social perception of favelas as Blacks spaces. He goes on to remark on the wide networks of criminality in favelas, which is the point the UPP officer conveyed above. This powerful symbolic linkage between urban space, blackness, and crime is a contemporary actualization of a historically constructed and structuring representation. It is the main reason why the UPP rank-and-file cops resist approaching their work according to more democratic and horizontal premises. Since favelas are spaces of blackness, and blackness symbolizes not only crime but all that needs to be separated, contained, surveilled, and isolated, to engage spaces of blackness is therefore to engage bodies that are always threatening and in need of control. In this cognitive context, a 2015 Datafolha opinion poll on criminality shows that 53 percent of Brazilian Whites agree with the statement “a good criminal is a dead criminal.” The fact that 44 percent of Blacks agreed with the same statement only shows the obstinate socially shared assumption about blackness, criminality, and the lesser value of Black lives. In attempting to reform the police, those pushing for the new security paradigm are hitting the wall of socially shared antiblack cognition.
• • •
Amarildo’s murder, contextualized within historical and contemporary symbolic currents and institutionalized practices, becomes a foretold tragedy. His neighborhood, Rocinha, is the same which, a few years earlier, the governor used as an example of an “industry of criminals.” In the mid-1980s Rocinha became nationally notorious for the absolute control young drug dealers had over its territory and population. Buzunga, one of the young men who briefly controlled the local drug transactions before being assassinated, proudly posed for news media photographers toting his assault weapons and bags of cocaine carefully arranged around his waist. The moral panic about favelas and its people were of course part of a broader political context in which leftist populist governor Leonel Brizola tried to reform the Military Police, known for its brutality against the Black and impoverished. In the preparations for the upcoming large-scale sporting events, and in a climate (presently gone) of triumphant optimism, there remained a strong current of moral panic about Black spaces. Unlike in previous historical eras, however, the 2008–16 moral panic happened in the midst of an unprecedented multiracial public awareness of Black suffering. It is to this expanded multiracial awareness of Black suffering, and how it related to Amarildo’s case, that i now turn.
Multiracial Protest: Nonblack Recognition of Black Suffering
That Amarildo met his death by the same police force that represents Rio’s new dawn of democratic and inclusive public security attests to the interminable difficulty that the question of antiblackness poses to the Brazilian polis. This difficulty is evidenced by the wave of multiracial protests that followed Amarildo’s disappearance. Protestors demanded that Amarildo be found, and voiced serious critiques against the UPPs, linking them to the Brazilian dictatorship period. A community in the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s elite area, the Zona Sul, Rocinha is a vital center for small businesses, the arts, sports, and varied forms of organizing, both governmental and nongovernmental. There are at least four hundred NGOs in Rocinha. This profusion of organizations, and the local, state, national, and international networks that converge in the neighborhood, provide some explanation for the notoriety that Amarildo’s case achieved.
Also important to understanding the repercussions of Amarildo’s case was the singular political moment in Brazil at that time, as explored in chapter 4. The 2013 wave of popular protests happened just when details of Amarildo’s disappearance were disseminated by the dominant and alternative news media, which certainly helped fuel popular mobilization. What follows are brief analyses of four moments illustrative of the protests that emerged in the wake of Amarildo’s death. In each moment, multiracial blocs demanded an end to police corruption and brutality. They called attention to the second-class citizenship of the impoverished, residents of favelas, and Blacks.
On July 22, 2013, thousands of people gathered at the downtown Largo do Machado square and walked a few miles to the Guanabara Palace, where the office of the state of Rio governor is housed. As in the other protests in various Brazilian cities, this one was multiracial but visibly dominated by White, college-educated, and middle-class persons. In audiovisual footage of the event, protesters express their indignation about Amarildo’s disappearance. Differently than the broad positive consensus about UPPs in the news media and academic research, the protestors link UPP practices to those of the police during the dictatorship, when, as extensively documented, torture and disappearances of political opponents where routine. Protesters yelled slogans like “UPP is dictatorship!” and “UPPs are a farce!”
The generalized empathy toward Amarildo and impoverished residents of favelas, combined with a sharp critique of the state’s complicity in the systematic abuse of the most vulnerable and excluded Brazilians, is communicated in clear terms. The crowd speaks from an awareness that it occupies a position of privilege relative to that of the main victims of police brutality who are not only the poor, pushed away into informal and precarious neighborhoods, but also the Black. Several statements about the police brutalization and killing of “the poor, the Black, and the resident of the periphery” appear in videos of the demonstration. Nonblacks’ awareness of and indignation about Black suffering seems widespread.
In a similar vein, on July 31, 2013, TV Brasil reported on an organized protest in Copacabana demanding justice for Amarildo’s disappearance. This time the protest was smaller and more specific. It connected Amarildo’s case to thirty-five thousand similar cases of police-related disappearances since 2007. According to Antônio Carlos da Costa, of the NGO Rio de Paz, Amarildo’s case exemplified a pattern of state action that revealed the “banalization of human life, especially when it’s the life of the impoverished and the Black.” Costa, the protest’s main organizer, is White; so is the seaside neighborhood where the art installation, featuring human-size figures, placed on the beach sand, represent disappeared persons. Here again, indignation about state terror affecting “the impoverished and the Black” serves as the catalyst for mobilization and protest.
On August 1, 2013, residents of Rocinha, in alliance with several nongovernmental organizations, independent news media outlets, political parties, as well as artists, teachers, lawyers, and university professors, held a vigil and a march from Rocinha to Leblon, where the state governor resided. “Where is Amarildo?” signs, as well as several people wearing T-shirts featuring Amarildo’s photograph, can be seen as Elizabete da Silva, Amarildo’s wife, as well as some of her children, relatives, and neighbors, gather on the street to protest once again the construction worker’s disappearance. While this manifestation shows a greater proportion of Blacks and residents of Rocinha, it is a markedly multiracial and multiclass affair. As the marchers make their way to the adjoining neighborhoods of the Zona Sul, they interrupt the flow of traffic through the Zuzu Angel tunnel that links Rocinha and the elite waterfront neighborhood of Leblon. At that point, according to the images produced by the independent media channel Jornal A Nova Democracia, there is still a visible number of Black persons in the crowd. Upon arriving in Leblon, the protesters coming from Rocinha are joined by activists who had been camping near the governor’s residence for a few days. Self-defined anarchist members of the Occupy Leblon movement, these youths claimed to have no political agenda and no leaders.
However, the anarchists affirmed their support for the mass protests that had swept the country a few weeks earlier. Like the protestors elsewhere, they supported free public transportation and demanded that “there be no World Cup, Olympic Games, elections; that Cabral be impeached, and out with the corrupt leadership of the teachers’ union.” Once in Leblon, the multiracial crowd had become visibly whiter; chants of “Cadê o Amarildo?” were now drowned by “Fora Cabral!” and several light-skinned youth, wearing ski masks, began to monopolize the cameras’ attention. The images don’t show it, but shortly thereafter, despite the apparent solidarity and fusion of movements (the Occupy movement and the one coming from Rocinha), Rocinha residents dispersed and made their way back home. They knew that were there any police violence, they would be the first to be attacked.
On October 7, 2013, “Somos Todos Amarildo” (“We Are All Amarildo”), a “journalistic video,” was published as part of the campaign to protest Amarildo’s disappearance and to pressure the state for a final determination on the case. In the video, Marcelo Freixo, a state representative for the leftist Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL, or Socialism and Freedom Party), and the president of the Human Rights Committee, at the state capital, explain that Amarildo’s case is part of a historic moment, when multitudes are in the streets protesting the government. Echoing previous protests, Freixo emphasizes that the post-1985 democratic period in Brazil saw more people go missing than during the military dictatorship. “The reason why we don’t know this,” he states, “is because, unfortunately, dignity has a zip code. And since the missing people are Black, impoverished, and residents of favelas and the periphery, they remain invisible, they don’t make the news. The ethical concern is not there. It’s as if they weren’t one of us.”
Elizabete da Silva is featured walking up a narrow alley in Rocinha. At the time of the recording, it had been almost a month since Amarildo’s disappearance. Elizabete, however, sees her husband’s case as an example of a pattern: “they [the police] have done a lot of cowardice with lots of people. The difference is that everyone else has stayed quiet, and we began to protest out loud.” Two actors accompany Elizabete: Fernanda Paes Leme, and Érico Braz. Like Freixo, Leme is White; Braz is Black. Leme and Braz express surprise at what they find in Rocinha. “I’m not used to walking so much,” states Braz, after he introduces himself by saying he does not come from such “communities.” Leme is just as impressed. As they follow Elizabete to her and Amarildo’s house, up narrow and winding alleys, streets, stairs, and open sewer canals, Leme states that “this is more like a trail, not a street, it’s dangerous, narrow, slippery, dirty, a lot of trash, no sanitation system. The few minutes I spent here showed how precarious everything is. I can’t imagine living here.”
Following scenes inside Elizabete and Amarildo’s former home (due to the ongoing investigation and threats they moved out), Freixo addresses the UPPs: “The idea of not having dealers, no armed conflict, obviously it’s important.” Yet, he notes, in line with the qualitative research analyzed above, “the police will only do good work if they respect the residents, if there’s integration. There’s got to be a different type of training, a different logic.” A few residents interviewed suggest a state of terror engendered by the UPP. One of them, identifying herself as Amarildo’s cousin, speaks from a window on the third floor of a building: “Before the UPP, I would go out and leave my children home. Now I can’t do this anymore. I’m afraid of them [the police]. They shot my husband, almost killed him, right there where you are standing. After the UPP, we don’t have peace anymore. The favela is gone. Rocinha is crying for help.” Amarildo’s oldest son has a similar take on the state of terror the UPP inaugurated: “After 6:00 p.m., we don’t leave the house anymore.”
Freixo makes one of the last statements in the video. He explains that the threats Amarildo’s family members experience at the hands of the UPP illustrate the common assumption that favela residents are criminals by association. This assumption clearly emerges out of the study analyzed above. Conducted with the UPP rank and file, the study shows how police officers reject the idea that only a small fraction of favela inhabitants are linked to drug-dealing organizations. Freixo’s point is to show how favela residents, from the perspective of police officers, become indistinguishably linked to crime, and therefore should be treated as such, with preemptive force and violence.
Omissions, Conflations, Slippages: Oblique Identification at Work
In the four moments analyzed above there repeatedly emerge tropes of “the poor, the Black, and the resident of the periphery.” While suggesting social awareness, moral indignation, and empathy toward the most vulnerable members of society, the recognition of Black suffering brings with it interesting omissions, conflations, and slippages.
The key omission is that, even among the impoverished and those who reside in areas bereft of urban infrastructure, Black women and men are disproportionately targeted by agents of the state. This is one of the principal conclusions of numerous specialized and reputable studies, quantitative and qualitative. Thus, if Blacks experience multiple and cumulative forms of violence, including those perpetrated by the state, then when mentioned in the same phrase as “the impoverished” and “the residents of favelas and the periphery,” Blacks have their experiential uniqueness diluted in the larger universe of those persons negatively affected by social class and geography. For to be Black, impoverished, and the resident of a favela is not the same as being nonblack, impoverished, and residentially segregated by social class. Blackness adds to, intensifies, and thus renders unique and incommensurable the experience of social exclusion. Important works on experiences of blackness show the ways in which, in social environments defined by poverty, Black women and men occupy the areas less serviced by basic urban infrastructure such as piped water, sewage, trash collection, public transportation, and asphalt; stay longer in those areas; are disproportionately victimized by the police; and are disproportionately abused or neglected by public health care workers and institutions. The gendered condition of blackness, then, is related to but far exceeds those of poverty and geographic exclusion.
It is this fundamental omission of the irreducibility of the Black experience that allows for the cognitive conflation of social class, blackness, and location. While this conflation enables a critical perspective that identifies broad and vulnerable social segments that are the primary victim of police brutality, and nonblack identification with Blacks and Black suffering, it also prevents an engagement with a more precise appreciation of the dynamics and logic of antiblackness. In Amarildo’s case, more precise analytical questions would ask about institutionalized antiblack dispositions and the role they played in his torture, presumed death, and disappearance. Regardless of the offending police officer’s race, the fact is that blackness is the central, irreducible factor that explains the devaluing and destruction of life; the presumption of guilt (of the Black) and innocence (of the perpetrator of antiblack violence); and the negative social representations of the geographies of dispossession and vulnerability where police crime happens. Favelas are paradigmatic Black spaces. As an index of social death, antiblackness equates with gratuitous violence perpetrated against the Black body, dishonor, and genealogical rupture. Amarildo is sequestered from his community, abducted from his family, and subsequently killed and disposed as if he had no relevant and valuable social connections. In the words of one of the police officers at the scene of Amarildo’s torture, he was indeed treated like an animal. As repeatedly asserted by local residents and serious students of police lethality, such state-sanctioned acts of terror against Black people are the norm, not the exception. Amarildo’s tribulation, unfortunately, is the rule, not the exception. What is exceptional, then, is that his case became the cause of multiracial indignation. Yet this earnest indignation, while suturing and energizing the protesting multiracial blocs, is unable or unwilling to engage antiblackness as an overdetermining, irreducible, and indeed foundational element of the Brazilian social formation.
The next chapters will show that such dynamics of identification with Black suffering and simultaneous negation of antiblackness define the people-of-color ethos, the assumption and practice of multiraciality, and oblique identification. That the “journalistic video” about Amarildo’s life and death ends with a statement from the video’s producers about their “hope that better days will come” suggests a troubling connection between oblique identification and hopes/tropes of multiracial democratic redemption.
Amarildo’s death and its antiblack logic reveals diasporic continuities. Police lethality in the United States is currently at the center of multiracial mobilization. More specifically, young people’s incarceration in Austin suggests mechanics of surveillance and dispossession not unlike those that render Black spaces such as Rocinha the permanent loci of society-sanctioned social and physical death. The next two chapters explore the role that progressive multiracial blocs such as those mobilized after Amarildo’s death, those that claim empathy toward Black suffering, may play in furthering, rather than placating, such diasporic logic of antiblackness.