Book Reviews

A new grammar of public security in Brazil

Mesquita Neto, Paulo. 2011. Ensaios sobre segurança cidadã [Essays on Citizen Security]. São Paulo: Quartier Latin/Fapesp.

Review of: Mesquita Neto, Paulo. 2011. Ensaios sobre segurança cidadã [Essays on Citizen Security]. São Paulo: Quartier Latin/Fapesp.  By Daniel Silva

Why has Brazil’s 1988 democratic constitution advanced in promoting broad civil and economic rights while leaving (almost) unchanged the regulation of the police and armed forces? What’s the impact of Brazil’s Human Rights National Program in recent efforts of democratizing Brazilian society and building up an alternative to a minimal neoliberal state? Why have some types of public security policies been defined without much clarity, especially those that target the non-white-elites? These are some of the questions that Paulo de Mesquita Neto – a Brazilian scholar in political science who prematurely died in 2008 – asks in this collection of essays that he gathered under the rubric of Essays on citizen security. The book as a whole bears the imprint of an author striving to combine the vocabulary and syntax of democratic rule with a scrutiny of public security in Latin America – a grammar not too simple to practice in a continent that during the 1960s and 1970s surrendered to several authoritarian regimes whose marks are still noticeable, if not overly prominent, in current political culture and public debates.

The book as a whole bears the imprint of an author striving to combine the vocabulary and syntax of democratic rule with a scrutiny of public security in Latin America

One of the first aspects of Mesquita Neto’s effort on drawing from the grammar of democracy in discussing issues of violence, security and policing in Brazil and Latin America is his meticulous investigation of definitions of police forces in Brazil’s authoritarian constitution of 1967 (issued three years after the 1964 military coup that lasted until 1985) and in the democratic constitution of 1988. He argues that the federal constitution of 1988, also known as the “Citizen’s Constitution,” has made minor or no changes with regard to the role of the armed forces and the police in security. In spite of the elimination of articles related to “National Security,” the 1988 constitution maintained the status of the armed forces as main actors in the defense of the State and its institutions, thus keeping the main institution for ostensible policing – the Polícia Militar or Military Police – under the aegis of military rule. Instead of the military notions of “national” or “internal” security, the 1988 legal text adopted the concept of public security, but did so “in an ambiguous and imprecise way” (p.34). As Mesquita Neto aptly observes, it is not clear in the Citizen’s Constitution whether “public security primarily concerns the protection of the State, the government, or the citizens” (p.35). Legally as well as practically, it is like the democratic transition hasn’t been fully accomplished inasmuch as the textual ambiguity is instantiated in the police’s military approach and commitment to the citizen. Thus, in Latin America, the idea of “citizen security” (segurança cidadã) has emerged as the understanding of security in democratic rather than authoritarian terms. Mesquita Neto ties together the book’s 17 chapters by building on the Latin American notion of citizen security and connecting it to the United Nation’s definition of “human security” as that which protects human freedoms – “freedoms that are the essence of life” (UN Commission on Human Rights 2003: Chapter 1). In this sense, this book is at once an emic description and intervention on security and the (need for) police reform in Brazil and an etic incursion into the much neglected “human” of police regulations, public security discourses, and policing practices.

Many of the essays in the book deal with the ambiguities of a military control of the police inside a democratically ruled society.

Many of the essays in the book deal with the ambiguities of a military control of the police inside a democratically ruled society. Brazil is a federation of 27 States and has three main police forces. The Polícia Federal or Federal Police are a border-control and criminal investigation police, assigned to cooperate with Interpol and other international agencies and to prevent drug trafficking, money laundering, cyber-crime and terrorism. The Polícia Civil or Civil Police are a non-uniformed force responsible for local criminal investigations. The uniformed Military Police form the largest corporation and are in charge of preventing crime by means of ostensible policing. Created in 1970 during the authoritarian regime, the Military Police are considered an auxiliary force of the Army “and have a very centralized organization, similar to the Army’s organization” (p.249). Mesquita Neto argues that the military status of the police mirrors authoritarian practices widely held in the Army and in Brazilian society. Police officers have been trained according to strict military codes of hierarchy and rituals of humiliation, under the view that their practice aims at “internal security.” The rationale behind “internal security” is that “the armed forces and the police are organized to protect the State against political enemies and social movements, and to repress social and political conflicts rather than (…) maintaining the law and public order or protecting the citizens” (p.250). In pursuing the authoritarian principles of internal defense and protection of the State, the police have historically “resorted to the use or threat of violence, particularly against underprivileged citizens and groups of Afro-Brazilians or mestizos” (p. 253).

Mesquita Neto’s thorough insistence on marking Brazil’s transition into a democratic regime is… not trivial.

Mesquita Neto’s thorough insistence on marking Brazil’s transition into a democratic regime is therefore not trivial. He begins almost every chapter by describing Brazil’s embrace of democracy after a harsh military rule and by expounding the legal and political reforms that have been made in the fields of human, civil, economic and political rights. His spelling out of the grammar of democracy entails a theoretical understanding as well as a practical delineation of the contradictions, impasses and gradual advances toward a democratic control of the police and a demilitarization of the public sphere. Whereas conservative sectors have continuously supported the use of force by the police and understood that the police are the most important, if not the only, means for curbing violence, Mesquita Neto demonstrates that violence has grown since the re-democratization started in the 1980s, and that police violence stands as one of the main forms of crime that have spread ever since. For instance, in the 1990s the military and civil polices in São Paulo killed 6.218 civilians and injured 8.711 (from 1990 to 1998) – which amounts to a medium rate of 691 deaths per year. In the same period, 1.655 police officers died and 19.657 were injured – a medium of 184 police officers killed per year (p.56). Compare this to the rates in the US and you’ll notice that these numbers are “excessively high if compared to the records in democratic countries without civil war.” From 1990 to 1997, the police killed a medium rate of 29 civilians per year in New York, 20 in Los Angeles, 12 in Chicago and 10 in Washington, DC (p.57).

Mesquita Neto refuses to accept the easy equation according to which more policing and repression equals less crime (and indeed his reading of statistical data on opinion polls, crime, violent deaths, police personnel and the like add a quantitative punch to his critical analyses). To repeat an argument that is pervasive in the book: Brazil’s democratic transition has been accompanied by the growth of violence. According to data by the World’s Health Organization, in a list of 60 countries across different continents Brazil had in 2000 the 2nd highest rate of violent deaths (27 people per 100,000 inhabitants, p.189). From an economic perspective, violence costs 10.5% of Brazil’s GDP (p. 327). Opinion polls indicate that violence is one of the country’s worst problems (p.197). For Mesquita Neto, violence is always situated violence. Thus his narration gives expression to crucial indexes of violence such as race (racial discrimination is entangled with several cases of violent crime, p.233), gender and age (in Brazilian cities with the highest rates of homicide, violence “concentrates on the male young population,” p.190), and space (violence is more prevalent in “specific spaces”, p.193). The spatiality of violence is all the more crucial in Mesquita Neto’s explanation of the rise of crime in Brazil as the homicide rates may drastically vary in Brazilian cities, betraying not only the country’s notorious inequalities but also how inequality itself is an obstacle in the pursuit of a less disjunctive rule of law and a democratic control of the police. In Rio de Janeiro, homicides may vary from 0.0 to 251.1/100,00 across neighborhoods (data from 1996, p.341). In São Paulo, data from 1999 indicate that the number of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants jumped from 4.11 in Moema (a central upper-middle class neighborhood) to 116.23 in Jardim Angela (a neighborhood in the south periphery, p.231).

From Mesquita Neto’s inquiries into citizen security to community policing, from human rights to Brazil’s and Latin America’s justice and political systems, from violence to demilitarization of the public and police reform, a map of criminality surfaces. Much beyond academia, this cartography circumscribed his political attempt to intervene in society as a scholar from the Núcleo de Estudos da Violência or Institute for the Study of Violence at the University of São Paulo, an institution that, together with other research institutes, human rights agencies and the federal Secretary of Human Rights, has influenced political debates and policy making across the recent democratic elected governments. His mapping indicates that “the highest homicide rates are located in the peripheries of large cities and metropolitan regions, where the problems of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and lack of basic services such as healthcare, education, transport, communications, security and justice are particularly acute” (p.224). These locations are also those where serious violations of human rights have been reported – “including summary executions, torture and arbitrary arrests by the police and by private security and organized crime groups.”

The oeuvre’s democratic grammar therefore conjugates the language of democracy with spatiotemporal maps of criminality and (alleged) political viability in Brazilian cities

The oeuvre’s democratic grammar therefore conjugates the language of democracy with spatiotemporal maps of criminality and (alleged) political viability in Brazilian cities. Human rights are for him the only possible common ground for a democratic police (no longer the ambiguous “internal” policing aimed at the state and its institutions) and for non-violent democratic forms of inhabiting the social space. But the way to be paved is a long one. In drawing from scholarship on the anthropology of crime and policing such as Caldeira’s City of Walls, he elaborates on the lack of credibility of human rights in public discourses on violence. During the dictatorship, the notion of ‘human rights’ occupied most discourses demanding the release of political prisoners and claiming for civil forms of liberty such as freedom of expression and freedom of press. However, after the political transition, human rights more and more came to be referred to as “privilege for bandits.” When the scope of human rights was no longer the upper and middle classes who were persecuted during the dictatorship but common prisoners coming from “the major poor, miserable, non-white Brazilian population” (p.276), Brazil witnessed a racialization of discussions of crime, insecurity and human rights. Violent crime became a trope deployed by conservative groups, segments of the media and religious fundamentalists to proclaim human rights as malefic to public security.

Mesquita Neto contradicts the perception of human rights as “privilege for bandits” by arguing that constant violations of these fundamental rights have instead been a factor in the increase of violence in Brazilian cities.

Mesquita Neto contradicts the perception of human rights as “privilege for bandits” by arguing that constant violations of these fundamental rights have instead been a factor in the increase of violence in Brazilian cities. “Violations of human rights,” says he, “have the effect of triggering fear and distrust of the police in particular and of justice in general, thus hampering the integration between these institutions and the public” (p.132). In engaging with conceptions of human rights embraced by Brazil’s Human Rights National Program (started in Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s first government 1994-1998 and improved in Lula’s and Dilma’s mandates), he points that human rights are “not only civil and politic rights, but also economic, social, and cultural rights” (p.278). His pervasive attachment to human rights has to do with an understanding that, in Brazil, street violence is entangled with “structural violence”, that is, the violence of poverty, hunger, unemployment and precarious life conditions. Hence, crime and violence are not exactly “lucrative activities” but sometimes the last means left for impoverished groups. The author adds that, “in this scenario violations of human rights tend to lower the alternatives of actions for these peoples and groups, and may increase rather than curb their motivation for practicing crime and violence” (p.133).

One last aspect that I would like to highlight – and which is intertwined with this view of human rights – is Mesquita Neto’s effort on theorizing the democratization of the police in Brazil. Several attempts of police reform (including the demilitarization of the police and civil accountability of police agents) have been blocked by lobbies of the armed forces and the military police in the national congress. Yet, even though he deems “democratic policing [as] a distant reality in Brazil” (p.374), Mesquita Neto did not hesitate to time and again contribute to a perspective on democratic policing and on a democratic field of public security more generally. He is crystal clear in what he means with ‘democratic policing.’ First, the police are democratic when they prioritize the protection and wellbeing of citizens rather than safeguarding governments or governors. Second, democracy in the police means that the institution will be accountable to the law, not to the government. Third, a democratic police protect human rights. Fourth, the police are democratic when they are more transparent, “open to participation and control by the civil society” (p.398).

To bring this review to a close, I should recall that when Wittgenstein devised his conception of grammar, he meant that in addition to governing and regulating moves of items in a social usage of language, a grammar constitutes the very identities of these items [1]. Rules in a game such as chess do not only govern the movement of pieces but also determine their very identity. Therefore, Mesquita Neto’s resolute effort in making clear that he was not grappling with an old grammar of authoritarianism and militarization in public security but with a new grammar of democracy (and with all the difficulties, contradictions and disputes in between) is ultimately a tenacious attempt of defining the very conditions on the possibility (hence the identity) of the moves within the game of democratic policing in Brazil.

Daniel Silva teaches linguistic anthropology and pragmatic theory at the University of Rio de Janeiro (Unirio). He received his Doctorate in Linguistics from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) in 2010. During 2007 and 2008, he did part of his doctorate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now completing an edited book on the relationships between language and violence.

[1] See, for instance, Foster, Michael, Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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DragNet

DragNet August 1 – 24, 2014

Whether you rely on Twitter, Facebook, Washington Post or Reddit for updates, chances are your August feed has been dominated by discussions surrounding the death of Michael Brown.

Whether you rely on Twitter, Facebook, Washington Post or Reddit for updates, chances are your August feed has been dominated by discussions surrounding the death of Michael Brown.

Whether you rely on Twitter, Facebook, Washington Post or Reddit for updates, chances are your August feed has been dominated by discussions surrounding the death of Michael Brown. Matt Thompson of Savage Minds touched upon the conflicting coverage of recent events in Ferguson (as well as the implications highlighted by news entities like The Washington Post and New York Times) in his entry, “What is a rioter?” Likewise, the short (and terrifyingly poignant) comic featured in Medium’s August 14th post expands upon the reality of modern police militarization. Among other problems, it emphasizes the role of basic training (or lack thereof) in the police use of military-issued equipment.

If militarization is of particular interest, be sure to check out Taylor Wofford’s piece in Newsweek. Although many associate the growing police use of military grade gear and weaponry with Ferguson protests, Wofford details how departments have been “silently preparing officers for battle” as far back as the early ‘90s.

The Economist’s post Cops or Soldiers? is also relevant to concerns about police militarization. More intriguing is the fact that the article was originally featured back in March (preceding the events in Ferguson). Although SWAT teams are implied as representing an important tool of departments, when and where such teams should be deployed remain key (unanswered) questions.

Of course, Anthropoliteia staff have not been silent bystanders to Ferguson discussions. Meg Stalcup offered insight about the series of events, providing the seldom-addressed topic of officer perceptions. Although the dynamic of officer-civilian relations remains mostly hostile, Stalcup posits that with officer’s “under threat perception, it’s not surprising, although unprofessional and deplorable, that officers menace the protestors they are supposed to protect.” Lastly, don’t miss Anthropoliteia’s second Ferguson post Blue on black violence and original crime: view from Oakland, California. Our developing forum featured Brad Erickson on August 21st. In his post, Erickson uses his own experiences researching the people and police of Oakland, CA to comment on the racial and militaristic implications of Michael Brown’s shooting.

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DragNet

DragNet: July 15 – 31, 2014

 

With facial recognition technology growing in popularity (think Facebook), companies like CV Dazzle are responding with creative solutions aimed at protecting privacy (and, for that matter, your face).

With facial recognition technology growing in popularity (think Facebook), companies like CV Dazzle are responding with creative solutions aimed at protecting privacy (and, for that matter, your face).

Continue reading

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DragNet

DragNet: June 15 – 30, 2014

lancaster-pa-camera

After months of debate, the ACLU released previously sealed records regarding the cell phone-tracking tool in use by several departments.

 

The topic of surveillance packed a powerful punch this month, with the court releasing documents regarding Stingray technology capabilities. After months of debate, the ACLU released previously sealed records regarding the cell phone-tracking tool in use by several departments. The publication comes nearly 3 months after initial buzz about the tool that circulated after a suspect’s phone was used by police to track him to his apartment prior to obtaining a warrant. The more notable specifics of the technology can be found here.

The problem of prison over crowding is presented by Alyse Berenthal’s article in Anthropology News this month. As an anthropologist interested in the ethnographic aspects of justice, Berenthal spent time working with people in self-help legal clinics. By restricting definitions of justice to the individual level, Alyse work offers insights to the pitfalls of an over burdened justice system.

The truth is in the data.   The proof is in the series of graphs presented by Nicole Flatlow in Think Progress’ article about the existential growth of the US prison population. States like California are so over-populated with prisoners that courts have ordered that prisons take steps to reduce inmate populations. Local jails are feeling the pain of overcrowding, with large volumes of low-risk or offenders awaiting trial making up a large proportion of total prisoner populations.

Also in surveillance is Kirsten Weld’s post about the institutionalization of intelligence gathering by the US. From the Spanish-American War, to FDR’s administration, to the aftermath of 9/11: it becomes apparent that data mining is nothing new to the US’ administrative history. Whether or not the US has a right to act as “global policeman” has yet to be determined by both the law and its citizens.

Stingray technology was not the only cause of raised eyebrows this month. James Eyers of Financial Review put tap-and-go credit card technology under scrutiny in a post from earlier this month. Some departments are criticizing tap and go transactions; pointing to higher theft and break-ins by criminals looking for this specific type of credit card. Banks are standing by their anti-identification policies, stating that crime inevitably changes alongside technological innovations and they as a financial entity cannot be held accountable.

First shared in May, Mother Jones’ post by Katie Quandt was popular again this month. Entitled “What it’s like to visit your mother in prison on mother’s day”, Quandt reflects about the impact of her foster sister’s incarceration on her role as a mother. The article comes shortly after Sesame Street’s recent initiative to talk about challenges children with parents in prison face, citing that 1 in 28 children fall into this category (with that stat increasing to 1 in 9 children among African American children).

Have plans to lounge beachside this summer? If so, you can’t miss David Thompson’s “must read” journal articles for Spring 2014. Catch up on the latest in anthropology and policing in scholarly publications here.

Border Criminologies announced their recent initiative to first digitize and eventually physically document material works by UK immigrants. The archive is intended to act as a reminder of the creative process of individuals even during times of extreme stress and uncertainty. It serves to emphasize the role of material culture in criminology.

Should community policing lead the way in 2014? Steve Early advocates for this approach in In These Times pose on June 23rd. He attributes the more “reactive policing” approaches to post-9/11 emphasis on response. Would regular officer assignments result in higher reliability ratings from the public? Should community relationship building be instated to replace reactive responses?

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Commentary & Forums, Dispatches, From the Field, Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond

The Other Side of the Bay – Social Consequences Across from Rio de Janeiro

The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Nick Wong and Stuart Davis with the latest entry in our forum Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
Photo by Nick Wong CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

A young boy playing in Fazenda dos Mineiros. Many of the toys provided to the children are donations from church organizations and other social programs aimed at helping these communities. They are insured to be in good working condition before donation, but due to the large demand for toys, children remain with the same toy for years. Photo by Nick Wong CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Our first contact with the Fazenda dos Mineiros community was by chance encounter. We were invited to visit the home of a friend, Gilberto Lima, a community leader who works in Rio de Janeiro and São Gonçalo on children’s rights, among other issues of social justice. Gilberto was the uncle of a friend back in the US who helped one of us prepare for our respective Fulbright terms, and for hospitality’s sake, he invited us over for lunch. What we didn’t know was how much the visit would influence our nine months in Brazil.

Located 15 miles across the Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro’s historic downtown, the city of São Gonçalo has followed a much different path than its famous neighbor.[1] Continue reading

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DragNet: June 1 – 15, 2014

"The challenge of on-officer cameras is the tension between their potential to invade privacy and their strong benefit in promoting police accountability," ~ACLU

“The challenge of on-officer cameras is the tension between their potential to invade privacy and their strong benefit in promoting police accountability,” ~ACLU

June kicked off with a post by Scott Shafer of NPRNews regarding the drastic increase in California parole rates. Where previous years saw less than a 10% release rate for “lifers”, 2013 recorded a near doubling of this statistic. California governor Jerry Brown has reiterated that crime type is no longer as much of a determining factor for parole as is the level of threat an inmate poses to the community.  For more about the parole increase, check out Matt Levin’s article about lifers freed from prisons as well as his timeline cataloging the history of California parole trends.

“To the radicalized youth who demonstrated in 14 Brazilian state capitals on May 15, the World Cup represents a fundamental flaw in the Workers’ Party (PT) project,” writes Rodrigo Nunes in a news post from Aljazeera. While your friends are busy blowing up your Facebook feed about the soccer of World Cup, Brazilians continue to show outrage that the event has brought their country few winners, but many losers. For more about the political implications of the World Cup, check out Werner Krauss’ article on the Huffington Post.  Here, he dissects the event from a structural-ritual perspective. Anthropoliteia also featured a post from Meg Stalcup in our continuing coverage of the World Cup.

It’s not just police getting virtual these days- so are crime scenes. In a personal favorite post by Kashmir Hill of Forbes, Hill recounts the Internet trail left behind by Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger. The troubled youth produced several YouTube videos documenting his gradual decline into criminal violence.

What would Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault have to say about Lebanese prison systems? Yazan al-Saadi’s post on Al-Akhbar evokes this and other questions about surveillance and control. The original panopticon envisioned a top-down power structure wielded by authority figures over non-authority figures.  In the context of Lebanese prisons, however, this concept is turned on its head as it is the prisoner who seemingly wields ultimate control.  Also in surveillance, the wife of ex-IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre has requested a formal investigation by the US state department after sensitive information from a phone call with the US embassy appeared in a popular tabloid a few days later.

An unlikely economical analysis of police body mounted cameras appeared in The Motley Fool’s investing section.  Ryan Lowery reflects on the potential profitability of the leading police tech companies (including TASER and L-3 Communications) that produce the majority of the equipment.

Issues of excessive force, surveillance and militarization come to a head in Kent Paterson’s post on CounterPunch. Using recent examples of militaristic responses by members of the Albuquerque police department, Paterson builds up to a broader discussion about the impact of police technologies on aggressive responses and use of force by US police departments.

Juvenile detention centers in California will be receiving $80 billion in coming months to rejuvenate current facilities. Several proposals for amenities and new features reinforce a community-based emphasis.  Officials hope the restructuring will help to solidify rehabilitation as a prevailing theme.

Tina Dupuy authored an engaging piece about casual vs. institutionalized racism in AlterNet this month. Why does the US rally more readily against casual comments than it does to institutionalized forms of racism (such as the prison system)? And further, does/can one form of racism lead to the other?

“Ban them, ban them all with a carve out for hunting weapons,” says Scott Martelle from LA Times Opinion. Referring to his admittedly minority stance on gun control in America, Martelle proposes the next steps for eliminating gun violence in America.

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