How Police Violence Paves The Way To Authoritarianism


Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, believes the only good criminal is a dead one. Many Brazilians agree.

RIO DE JANEIRO ― One quote could have told you that Jair Bolsonaro was going to win.

“A good criminal is a dead criminal,” the authoritarian former army captain proclaimed again and again during his campaign for president of Brazil last year.

Bolsonaro’s words were harsh. But in a country plagued by rising levels of violent crime, the sentiment is widely popular with voters — and reflected in government policy. Brazil’s experience offers a warning to others: As police tactics get more extreme and cops kill more people, support for the killing doesn’t necessarily fall. Instead, as violence increases, so does the desire for even more aggressive solutions.

For decades, Brazil has given its police nearly free rein to shoot and kill people suspected of crimes. As Bolsonaro made his pitch for the presidency, the numbers were only getting worse. Cops in the country killed more than 5,000 people in 2017, a 20 percent increase from the year prior.

Five thousand police killings is a staggering number. There were roughly 17,000 homicides reported in the United States two years ago. Police in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-most populous, killed more people last year than their counterparts across the entire United States, even though the U.S. population is 20 times larger than that of Rio.

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