Repression of protests reignites demand for police demilitarization

Brasil Observer - Oct 10 2016
Sao Paulo- SP- Brasil- 18/09/2016- Manifestantes realizam ato contra o governo de Michel Temer. O ato começou com a concentração embaixo do vão livre do MASP. Na foto, manifestante é detida por Policiais Militares. Foto: Paulo Pinto/ Agência PT
Demonstration against President Michel Temer at the Paulista Avenue, in São Paulo, on September 18 (Photos: Paulo Pinto/ AGPT)

(Leia em Português)


According to experts, militarism is responsible for forging practices that are not consistent with what should be the provision of public security in the culture of police organizations


By Wagner de Alcântara Aragão

The truculence of the military polices of the Brazilian states has created many victims. Different segments of society are calling for the demilitarization of public security forces. Now, with the successive protests in the country against the government of Michel Temer being repressed by police officers, the defence of police demilitarization regains force. The indicators suggesting the growth in the number of people killed by the police (in service or not) also reinforce the arguments against the militarist model of the police in Brazil.

According to the latest Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, the rate of deaths by military police for every 100,000 inhabitants increased by a third from 2013 to 2014 – from 0.6 to 0.8. As noted in the report by the coordinator of the Violence Analysis Laboratory at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), Ignacio Cano, lethal force by police is actually even higher. “It is underestimated because there are states that have not provided information such as Rio Grande do Norte and Roraima.”

He also points out the number of police officers killed in 2014 – a total of 398 (military and civilian). “This represents a trend of continuity with the previous year (408), with a very slight decrease. Again, this figure is an underestimation of the reality, as states such as Amapá, Roraima and Sergipe do not provide information,” warns Cano. According to him, police lethality “has always been an ‘Achilles heel’ of the Brazilian public safety.”



It’s not only the number of deaths that express police violence in the country. The stance of the military officers in action, such as land repossession, riot control at major events (such as fights at football games) and especially in popular demonstrations, illustrates the disproportionate application of force. The repression of citizens who are now protesting against President Michel Temer, are reminiscent of the aggression o during the mass demonstrations of June 2013.

In that year a proposal for a constitutional amendment providing the overhaul of the public security system in Brazil brought, among other measures, the demilitarization of the state polices that make the ostensive patrolling. The proposal has been at the Committee on Constitution and Justice of the Senate for over a year. For the author of the proposition, Senator Lindbergh Farias (Workers Party), “excessive rigidity of the military police should be replaced by more autonomy to the police, accompanied by greater social control and transparency.” The senator also noted that in 2012, the United Nations suggested the end of police militarization in Brazil, a recommendation that was rejected by the Brazilian government with the claim that demilitarization would be unconstitutional.



One of the references in the defence of the end of the military model of public security is the professor of criminal law at the Law School of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Tulio Vianna. A Doctor in Law from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), with postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bologna (Italy), Vianna – at conferences, lectures and articles – often points out that the public security model based on the militarization of the forces is a “police jabuticaba”, an analogy to the fruit that is only found in Brazil.

“Brazil has a police model with no equivalence in any country in Europe or America,” he points out in an article published on his website. “Brazilian police, unlike the absolute majority of the police around the world, is divided into two forces: military, which only performs the ostensible policing, and civil that only investigates. Something which is as strange as splitting the Brazilian football team in two: one that only defends and another that only attacks, and give each of them distinct technical and training to bring them together possibly only in official matches.”




For Tulio Vianna and other critics of the Brazilian model, militarism is responsible for forging, in the culture of police organizations, practices and behaviours that are inconsistent with what should be the provision of the public security service. Instead of promoting security, military bias leads to episodes of brutality and repression that generate violence and increase the sense of insecurity. The main victims of this process are the peripheries and populations historically excluded – such as black, poor, minors at risk, among other segments.

“Military discipline in the police is unnecessary and excessive, creating in the police a culture of inadequate rigidity and violence to a democratic regime,” writes Professor of Criminal Law at UFMG, to then illustrate: “Military training is based on a series  of rituals of physical and symbolic violence that seek to discipline the recruits to obey their superiors at all costs. The focus of military training is to internalize the recruits as core value respect for the authority of superiors, when the focus of any democratic police training should be the internalization of respect for the rule of law and the judiciary (…) Train police violently and officers will be violent.”



Security military forces have existed since the Empire and expanded during the Republic, but the militarization of the state police intensified during the civil-military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. Before the ostensive patrolling was also assignment of civilian police – currently responsible only for the police investigation work. During the dictatorship, the state military police during the dictatorship implanted with the 1964 coup, were decisive in helping the central government in the repression of opponents of the regime of exception.

There are signs that this auxiliary role to the designs of the national government is being fulfilled again. Just in states like São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro, whose governors were aligned in favour of impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and supporting the successor, Michel Temer, is the grossest episodes of repression at street demonstrations against Temer.

Thus the first great act against the government of Temer, after the Senate approved the impeachment of Rousseff. The demonstration, which took place on September 4, a Sunday, and that led thousands of people to the Paulista Avenue in São Paulo, was closed to force the troops of the Military Police. Claiming to contain the action of so-called “black blocks”, police launched stun bombs reaching hundreds of protesters who were acting peacefully, including children. A 20-year-old student was hit by shrapnel in the left eye, and days later lost their vision.

Arbitrary arrests of young people and attack to political leaderships – Senator Lindbergh Farias, Congressman Paulo Teixeira and former minister Roberto Amaral – joined the abuse scenario by the São Paulo Military Police on protesters against Temer. In other action at Avenida Paulista, on September 18, a shocking scene of police repression spread through social networks, generating indignation and rejection of the oppressive attitude of the militarized police.



  • According to the latest edition of the Brazilian Yearbook of Public Safety (2015), every three hours a person is killed by the police in the country.
  • The rate of police killings in service is around one a day.
  • Also according to the Yearbook, “the number of deaths resulting from police action represents 5% of intentional violent deaths.”
  • Nearly 666,500 police and municipal guards make up the public security forces in the country.
  • Of this total workforce, 64% are military police. Another 18% are civilian police officers, 15% municipal guards, 2% federal police and 1% highway police.
  • For every 100 thousand inhabitants, 1.5 people are killed in Brazil by a military or civilian police in service or out of service.
  • A total of 3,022 people were killed by police in 2014, a 37% increase compared to 2,203 in 2013.