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Knowing the code – does Brazil’s police have license to kill?

Brazil police killings in Rio de JaneiroWhen I was in college I was struggling in a class and I went to speak with the professor. Towards the end of our conversation, she said something that I didn’t quite understand. It was as if she was speaking in code; my deciphering what she said relied on my rather unsophisticated read of her tone, word choice and what I thought was a nod and a wink. I was confused and finally I blurted out “I don’t know the code, I don’t understand what you’re  saying!” She laughed and reassured me that I was doing fine in the class.

In the most recent Amnesty International report “You Killed My Son; Homicides by military police in the city of Rio de Janeiro” they quote a Police Chief who explained  “The word of the police officer is the voice of the state. It is truthful. The police officer is performing a public service.” In a recent GQ article “The story of Brazil’s killer cops” (July 14, 2015) a police Sergeant said, “My job is to protect people. And if someone is killed, it’s not me who is doing the killing. It’s the state. The state gives me this power.” These police officers are extremely clear that they are an arm of the government, that they act on behalf of the government. What isn’t clear is are they protecting the state or its citizens. How does it happen that so many police in Brazil believe that murdering citizens is a legitimate method of fighting crime? What are the spoken and unspoken expectations of them as police officers by their superiors?

Last September a video was released in which police in Rio enthusiastically trumpeted their execution of 2 boys “Two less,” one officer is heard saying, “If we did this every week, it could start going down. We hit target.” They saw their murder of two teenagers as a strategic success. What did they mean when they referred to their “target”? Was there an expectation that they would troll through the community and kill Black male teenagers? Perhaps they misunderstood their superiors. Maybe they simply don’t understand the code their superiors are using. Another, darker possibility is that they understand it perfectly.

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