TRANSCRIPT—FULL, UNCUT INTERVIEW
Episode 2 (July 2018): Yanilda María González and Participatory Security in Latin America
This is entreVistas, chats about Latin American politics, culture, and history, featuring faculty, students, and visitors at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago.
Participatory security, in which local citizens play an active role in shaping security practices in their communities, is key to how governments address public safety today. In Latin America, the idea of community participation in crime prevention has become ubiquitous, but not all participatory security models are the same. This episode of entreVistas addresses three different institutional designs—in Buenos Aires, São Paulo, and Bogotá—that lead to different outcomes in terms of how the police and state provide security. Class MA student, Ámber Miranzo, talks to Yanilda María González, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, about the role of citizens in urban governance in Latin America.
Ámber Miranzo: Today, we have invited Yanilda González, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Professor González, good morning.
Yanilda María González: Good morning, Ámber.
Professor González’s work is centered in state capacity and citizenship in Latin American democracies. She is currently writing her manuscript, Authoritarian Coercion by Democratic Means: The Paradox of Police Reform in Latin America. One of the focuses of your research is the police-community partnerships in Latin American democracies, where citizens are involved in what you call “participatory security.” What are these partnerships for?
What I call participatory security is one of various forms in which governments invite citizens to take an active role in shaping what local security is going to look like. And, what I found in my research is that can look like many different ways. First of all, ordinary citizens in communities and businesses can cooperate with police in all kinds of ways without any formal institution, but what participatory security means, as I’ve written about it, is that these are formal policies of the state. These are laws. The state dedicates resources to create these types of programs where they bring together local police and the communities that are part of the local jurisdiction to participate in identifying what are key problems in terms of security. What is it that makes them feel unsafe in their neighborhoods? What are particular crimes or priorities that they are especially worried about? And also creating a forum where usually every month they get together with the police to design solutions, or to think about solutions, make demands, and say “we now told you what the problems are, now can you do something about it?”
What I found through these participatory security meetings is that even though they are often very much focused on the police, they are really dealing with other issues that have to do with basic urban governance—lighting, traffic, public spaces, other community services that may deal with populations that are experiencing homelessness—, so all these are things that come up in these community forums between police and citizens that I call participatory security. What ends up happening is that you can’t just have the police as the only representative of the state in these forums and you end up having to call the local agency that is in charge of lighting, or trash pickup, or providing local housing, and other types of agencies like that.
In São Paulo, for example, which is one of the cities that I study, one of the key points of discussion is noise complaints. The local city agency that deals with noise complaints has to be at the table at these meetings as well. Just to give you a sense, it is a very diverse set of institutions. The things that people talk about from one neighborhood to another, even in the same city, can vary a great deal depending on that configuration of problems.
You have done research in Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia. Can you tell us more about the differences you have found in participatory security?
Sure. I started this research in Buenos Aires about twelve years ago. Well, I didn’t start my research twelve years ago, but I learned about the subject that I eventually ended up studying for my dissertation twelve years ago, when I was in Buenos Aires.
I found [participatory security] in a country like Argentina, which had been a dictatorship for so long and that still was dealing with authoritarian legacies, many of which had a lot to do with the police because of their involvement in repression under the dictatorship. I was in there in 2006 learning about what was going on with the 30th anniversary of the dictatorship and I found out that coincidentally—they’re not related—they were setting up these community participatory forums called foros de seguridad. They had already existed but they were really picking up steam in that year and what they did was try to bring community into what is traditionally considered to be the role of the police to identify local problems, to come up with solutions, and to work together with police to try to resolve these problems.
In a country that was still dealing with the legacies of dictatorship and that was actually dealing with the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the last dictatorship, I was surprised that they were undertaking this very democratic approach to policing—or what seemed to be a very democratic approach to policing—to try to really give citizens more agency in shaping what local securities would be like, and importantly, what the police was actually supposed to be doing.
In Buenos Aires province, the way that the foros work is that they’re very bottom-up in the sense that there’s small groups of community leaders that get together. They meet usually once a month, but can meet more than that, and they [are] seen as taking the lead in getting demands of ordinary citizens and saying, channeling up to the police or the minister of security, “in this very small space we still have a complexity of problems, such as robberies of this particular type, or we have populations of youth that have no recreational opportunities, or there is a lot of drug dealing going on,”and so [they would identify] any number of things.
Again, these are a small group of community leaders that are self-identified and they get to engage in this very strong oversight of the police where they can actually tell the minister of security, “here are the problems we identified, and here is what the police did, and they actually didn’t do what we identified, so we have a problem.” Or they can say, “they did everything that we asked for so we are satisfied,” and the minister of security would take the input of ordinary citizens, of these community leaders, in then shaping police promotions.
Some of my interviewees in the police complained that these foros actually got local commanders removed. They were able to say, “they are not addressing our needs so we need a new commander.” Not the high police commander, but the local community, precinct commander. They exercise a great deal of oversight over the police.
In São Paulo, it was a totally different set-up to these kinds of small group community leaders, with very clear set of demands, clear set of solutions, and a plan to work out those demands and then an accountability of the police later on. In São Paulo it was far more open and participatory, so anybody could come to these monthly meetings. They can talk directly by getting up in front of a microphone, the way I am right now ,and have the local police chief in front of them and saying, “we’re not satisfied with this, here is what we want you to do.” But even though it was more participatory, what I found is that they don’t have very much authority to hold police accountable in the way that the Buenos Aires foros did. It was a trade-off between making it more open and letting anybody who lives or works here come and share their views, but then there was not a real mechanism for them to say “here are the specific solutions we want, here is a plan to making it happen, and this is how we hold the police accountable.” So it has that kind of trade-off relative to the Buenos Aires model.
The third one that I studied was in Bogotá, where it was neither as participatory as the São Paulo nor did it have this kind of accountability mechanism of Buenos Aires province. It was actually just these set-ups, which they called frentes de seguridad, where you get together with the people on your block and across the street from the block—so it was a very small area in which you’re supposed to identity problems—and talk to a local police officer. It’s not even the commander. In those meetings, the neighbors and the local officers talk about what is going on and you’re supposed to depend on those conversations actually making their way up to the local commander, and there was really no way to make sure of that.
So you have three very different types of designs across these three cities, and certainly there are many other models, but you see there are trade-offs. In the frentes of Bogotá that means you can have one on every block, so you potentially have very broad territorial coverage and presence and potential citizen involvement, but they don’t really have access to the police leadership and they don’t have any way of holding anybody accountable.
I know this is a very simple question, but the answer will not be. Would you say that community participation works in practice?
I think it depends on what we mean by work. I have a particular paper where I took this on, because one of the things that I, particularly in Buenos Aires when I would talk to certain community activists, especially those that are activists against things like police violence… one of the main things that I heard in my interviews was, “The foros don’t work. Foros don’t do anything. They don’t work.” And I wouldn’t say that I necessarily studied them because I thought they worked; I studied them because of the significance of what it means to bring citizens and state actors together, particularly police, which are so important for the development of democratic citizenship, and for your ability to exercise your rights. As a citizen, you need to have protection, you need to have security, and the police are responsible for delivering that.
For me, it was kind of that philosophical or theoretical reason, not to mention that we’re dealing with countries like Argentina and Brazil that are still relatively recently transitioned from dictatorship, where the police were also very involved in violating [the] human rights of large parts of the population as part of that dictatorship. So for me, it’s less about, does it work, than the institutional significance and the significance for democracy of creating these types of forums.
I’ll tell you some of the ways that I found that they “worked,” and some of the ways that they don’t do what we think that they might. And so in one paper that I have, I look at the fact that in the case of Bogotá, for example, they have the possibility because they’re just literally frentes, like people describe it to me as, “yeah, the frentes, like the block in front of you.” They’re so small that they have the possibility to be really spread out around the city, that you can actually have a ton of them. And so a lot more people can come into contact with the frentes than the CONSEGs [Portuguese acronym for Community Security Councils] in São Paulo or the foros in Buenos Aires.
Folks who investigated this for the local chamber of commerce in Bogotá, they found that being involved with the frentes in Bogotá actually improved people’s opinion of the police. So when you consider Bogotá, in the early ’90s, police had very low levels of trust. I think 20% or so expressed trust in police in the early 1990s. But with the onset of the frentes, a lot more people got to come into contact with the police in a different context. They got to see, “oh, the police are here, they’re working,” “they want to hear what I think,” “I’m involved,” or “I feel like they’re going to be responsive to me.” You got to improve the attitude that people had of the police. That’s not an insignificant thing; that’s a very important starting point for police to be able to function, as that society has a good opinion of them or a positive attitude toward police.
But the frentes in many ways are stopped there because they don’t allow citizens to have more of a voice than that. They don’t allow citizens to say or neighbors to say, “This is how we want resources in our community to be used. This is what we want the police to be doing.” And it certainly doesn’t allow them to hold police accountable. It doesn’t allow them to have any kind of power or authority to say, “The police are not doing what we’re asking of them, so we are going to do this. We’re going to be able to exercise our authority in this way to either sanction them, or to get them to comply with what we want them to do.” There’s none of that in the Bogotá frentes, even though, like I said, they helped bring citizens and police face-to-face, and they helped improve the attitudes that people had of the police.
In São Paulo, again, this is the one where anybody can come, these are just kind of town hall meetings, where people get up in front of a microphone and say, “This is my complaint, and I want you to fix it.” They can talk to the traffic agent authority. They can talk to the lighting authority. They can talk to the police commander. They can talk to the noise agency people, and any other number of local authorities.
What the frentes are able to do…because you were getting this direct feedback from the agency, the officers, or bureaucratic agents that can actually shape what happens with resources…then they’re like, “Okay, we’re getting all these complaints about dark streets in this neighborhood, and that those things make people feel unsafe, and so we’re going to dedicate resources in that neighborhood to those streets that people highlight.” What I found is that in the CONSEGs in São Paulo, those meetings helped local authorities to allocate resources. So police were able to actually plan their operations around what people are saying at these meetings, the sub-prefeitura, which is the local administrative unit, were able to say, “Okay, we have all these unlicensed bars,” or “We have all these streets that are really dangerous or whatever, we’re hearing directly from the citizens that we can address them by allocating resources there.”
The limitation—and this is the limitation of all of them—is that then you only are hearing from the people that come to those meetings. You’re only hearing from people who feel comfortable going in front of the police to say what their needs are, and how they want them addressed. And so what you end up seeing is that in these CONSEGs, you end up having a lot of business people, even in the poorest neighborhoods, it’s the people who are business leaders that are mostly there. It’s not the needs of necessarily, perhaps, low-income young people, or others that are typically the victims of police. So Afro-Brazilians, who are very much a target of police violence in São Paulo, they are often underrepresented at these meetings, because many—particularly youth and low-income Afro-Brazilians—have had these negative exposures to police, and so they may not feel comfortable coming to these meetings. So you’re actually only getting demands potentially from more privileged sectors of the community, and not hearing from those that are underprivileged. That’s a very clear drawback and it makes us reflect on what it means for it to work. It allows the police to distribute resources in accordance to what they’re hearing, but they’re only hearing from a very self-selecting, limited part of the society.
In Buenos Aires, the interviews that I’ve done definitely show that they work in many ways, because community leaders get to be involved in very elaborate ways in shaping local security plans. They make local crime maps to say, “These are the target areas of the neighborhood. These are the problems that we’re facing, and here’s what we should do”—all developed in accordance with the police. But, in a similar way to São Paulo, who are the people that are going to those meetings that feel comfortable interacting with the police in this way? As I mentioned, it has that accountability component, which is that they can go to the Ministry of Security and say, “Look at our crime maps and look at what they’re doing.” Or, “Look at the plan that we developed and look at what they’re doing. So we want these police officers either punished, or we want them to be removed.” In some cases they were removed. That’s a very strong accountability mechanism to give to regular folks in the community.
But the problem with the foros, as you might imagine, is that it met with a lot of police resistance, and so they basically don’t exist anymore. The thing with the foros is that even though you come up with all of its flaws—that it’s unequal, that not everybody has access to it, that it allows the police to only hear from certain segments of the population—it still was a form of community oversight of the police. But the problem, of course, is that the police have the power to fight against that, and they did. Without more political support from the governor or the Minister of Security, it’s difficult to sustain a program like that. When you had a change in governor from ’07 to ’08, you saw that the foros really started to weaken, to the point that when I went to go do my field work last year, you basically didn’t hear a peep out of the foros anymore.
Did you find the same resistances in São Paulo and Bogotá? What is the reaction of the police to people being involved in policing?
I think generally police…it’s hard to generalize because there are some police officers who would say to me, particularly in São Paulo, “look, we can actually use these to our benefit, these can serve good policing, and we can actually recruit regular citizens to help us get more resources.” You can have the president of the council, the CONSEGs, write letters to the minister of security and say that we need more patrol cars in our community, we need more of this, we need more of that. What some police officers would say is that you can enlist them to help support the work of the police.
They like that aspect of it, but best-case scenario is that they see it as a way of supporting police work. Or you deal with it because it’s the law, and they have to comply. There were some that would not show up to the meetings even though they are required to by law. They sent low-ranking police officers that couldn’t possibly make decisions about any of the issues that citizens were coming to talk to them about. So those were their ways of showing resistance by presenting somebody who can’t actually respond to citizen demands. Overall, you have a lot of variation in how police respond.
In Buenos Aires, there was much more resistance because of this accountability mechanism, whereas in São Paulo there was still some sense that citizens can tell what problems they see but it’s the police’s decision [as to how to proceed] because they are the ones that know about policing. That is something you find across the board: police think they are the experts in policing, and “ordinary people can’t tell us how to do our jobs.”
The amount of resistance has to do with how much power you give people to tell police how to do their job. In Bogotá, it seemed [like] this kind of marginal thing that they can talk up and say, “look how participatory we are, we have 300 frentes,” and it sounds so impressive, [then you] realize they are just blocks, 300 blocks of people that are involved in these things. In some respects [the police] are able to use them to their benefit, but the more you give community members power or authority to hold police accountable, that is where you are going to encounter the most resistance. Which is why in Buenos Aires, the foros are kind of non-existent at this point.
Thinking about the institution of the police, how central is the police in Latin America as an institution and how do you conceive citizenship in relation to that?
I would say that in democracies, in any state…In my field of political science, we define the state very much in terms of a monopoly of violence, monopoly of legitimate force, which means that the only actors who have legitimacy in exercising the use of force, the use of violence, is the state. The people who have that authority within the state are the police. They are exercising a key function of the state, a defining feature of the state. Police are really central to what it means to have a state at all.
In democracies, the ability to do things like going to protests, or feeling comfortable in things like engaging in basic economic activity…of being able to feel like I can engage in political dissent or any other type of activity…requires you to feel safe doing so. For example, I am not going to open up a new business if I feel like this is a place where I am going to get robbed or extorted by gangs, or I might be more hesitant to do it. Whereas if I trust the police are doing their job and keeping us safe by keeping crime and violence down, then I will open up that business, or feel safe going to a protest, because I feel like I am not going to get beat up, or I am not going to be put in jail for dissenting, for expressing an opinion.
All these types of activities that are basic to political, social, cultural, and economic activities that comprise democratic citizenship, you need a basic level of security and safety so that you can engage in those activities. The police are essential to that. Police are not the only agency of the state, or even society, that is responsible for providing security. As I was mentioning, in the forums in São Paulo, there are all kinds of agencies and entities that were involved in what residents thought of as their security. The noise agency, the agency that cleans the streets, the agency that controls traffic—all these people are involved in creating secure communities.
And of course, there are all kinds of community organizations and development that are important for maintaining security. Police are essential to that but they’re not by any means the only agency that matters. There is research done in the U.S. showing that, with the very historic crime declines that have happened in the U.S. since the 1990s, community organizations actually played a big role. Having robust community organizations that were providing education or recreation for kids or support for vulnerable populations—all these community organizations also helped to reduce crime.
Police are one element of this configuration of actors of the state and society that can help communities be safe. In that sense, they are one actor that is charged with providing security and maintaining the state’s monopoly of violence, but again they’re not the only one. Another element of policing that is very important for shaping democratic citizenship is that they don’t engage in abuses against the population. When police are engaged in discriminatory stops or things like beatings or torture or extrajudicial killings, all these things also undermine citizen trust in the police. They undermine citizen trust in the state as a whole, they can help undermine citizen trust in one another. The police want the affirmative role of providing security, but if they have negative effects of their behavior in terms of engaging in abuses, they can also shape the nature of democratic citizenship in that way. What we find in places like Latin America and the U.S. is that those abuses are targeted towards populations that are the most vulnerable. It is against the poor, it’s against those who are experiencing homelessness, it is against people who are sexual or gender minorities or racial minorities. It’s black and brown communities. It’s immigrants and the poor that are so very often the targets of these abuses. So what you have is that the police are an important mediator of whether or not you even get to have access to other rights of citizenship.
One of your topics of specialization is police reform. What stands in the way of police reform in the three countries that you have studied?
That’s a really good question, and it’s a complicated question. It’s one that has a lot of relevance, even for places like the U.S., where in the last four years people have been engaging in this question of: How do we reform the police? Is it essential that we reform the police? Why is it so hard to reform the police? These are all questions that we often face, even if we’re talking about a country like the U.S. that has been democratic for a lot longer than countries like many in Latin America that are relatively newer democracies. It’s interesting that you’ve framed the question as, “What stands in the way of police reform?” because I think you already have the intuition that it’s a really difficult thing to get.
What I find in my research is that there’s a few barriers that make police reform very difficult, even when it’s very necessary, when you see that you have police forces that are out of control in the sense that you have tens of thousands of low ranking officers, that don’t really have adequate supervision, that are engaging all kinds of malfeasance and abuse, and that are violating systematically, the human rights of many citizens, particularly those that are the most vulnerable, that are actually really bad at their job. That actually don’t do a very good job of preventing crime, or of keeping communities safe, and in some ways, contribute to making them less safe, that are engaging in corruption, that are doing all these things. Even when police are facing all these problems, where you might say, “Hey, we should fix this,” it can still take years or decades for politicians to take notice and say, “Hey, we should do something about that.” The first thing is that police reform is not a thing that happens because there’s evident problems. Those evident problems can persist for many years, without there being concerted action to affect the problem at the structural causes of that problem.
I’ll give you an example. As I mentioned, I studied three sets of police forces: the Colombian National Police, the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, and the São Paulo State Police, particularly the military police, though there is also a civil police in Brazil. And in these three police forces, you have one, which is the São Paulo police force, where I would say one of its central problems since the transition to democracy in Brazil is the rampant use of deadly violence as a tool for crime control. They think that the way to reduce crime is by killing people who are suspected criminals, or this is their discourse at least, because they’re actually killing people who they’re not suspecting of being criminals at all, but they are engaging in very high rate of violence against the population.
One of the recent statistics…I think it was in 2015 or ’16, the police were responsible for about the equivalent of 20% of all homicides in the state of São Paulo. That’s almost mind numbing. It’s mind boggling to think about the entity that is supposed to stop violence, that’s supposed to protect you from violence, that is actually one of the key perpetrators of violence. If you were to pick out any actor and say, “This actor is responsible for 20% of homicides,” it would be extremely shocking, and you would say, “We have to address this.” But consistently in São Paulo—which is not to say that things haven’t changed—there has been absolutely no change in policing or in violence in the city. Of course there has [been some change], and those are important to highlight, but the kind of accountability mechanisms, the changes in training, the changes in structures, in both internal oversight and external oversight, those laws, those policies have just not been forthcoming. And now we’re on what, 36 years, since the democratic elections in the city of São Paulo in 1982. The inherent problem of a very violent, very deadly police force has still not generated the type of police reform that it would necessitate. So that’s one version of it, is that you just don’t get the reform that you need, ever.
Another version of that is that you have places like the Colombian police and the Buenos Aires police, where at some point, after many years of similar problems, politicians and society mobilized and got together and said, “We have got to do something to reform this police force.” In the early ’90s, in Colombia, in the late ’90s in Buenos Aires, they actually passed very comprehensive and broad reform of the police. They sought to change how police are educated. They wanted to decentralize the police, which means that it’s not just one person at the top making decisions, but that you are distributing power and control and authority over many different police forces so that they can more rapidly respond to local problems. They were demilitarizing the police, which is very important, because military work and police work are very different, and so to run a police force as though it were a military generates inherent problems. They sought to demilitarize the police. They sought to create all different types of training systems, and training materials for police. Different promotion incentives, so that you would no longer just be promoted because of how many years you have been police work, but they actually had to get more education, or you had to perform particular types of work, perform particular types of service. And they both also sought to improve the social conditions of the police.
Police officer’s salaries in Latin America are very low, for the low rank and file, they’re just extremely low. They face all kinds of precariousness that many of the communities that they are policing and sometimes abusing also face. So they also sought to address those issues to dignify the profession of the police a little bit more. They also sought to create community participation, which I’ve discussed, and very strong civilian oversight of the police. So this sounds great. It sounds very comprehensive, but there’s a “but” coming as you might’ve suggested.
What started to happen about a year into the reforms is that then you started to get political mobilization against the reform. In both places, you started to get an undoing of the reform, and so you say, “Okay, we’re not going to have such strong civilian oversight. Oh, and the police don’t like this community participation thing, so we’re not going to do this anymore. And the police don’t want to be demilitarized, so we’re going to move away from the demilitarization. And in some instances we’re going to recentralize power,” which is what happened in Buenos Aires province.
So you see that police reform, even if problems are very serious, as in São Paulo, it doesn’t happen. Or in the case of Buenos Aires and Colombia, even when it does happen, it’s extremely vulnerable to political winds shifting. And I would say that for those of us that are in the U.S., what’s been happening since the 2016 presidential elections represented a similar shift in winds to what happened after elections in Buenos Aires and in Colombia, which is to say, “we need to let the police do their jobs, we can’t handcuff them with these restrictions. People that want to put oversight on the police are really anti-police, and so they want our communities to not be so safe.” You actually heard very similar discourses in those two places to what we’re hearing now over the last year in the U.S. Those political shifts are a very big threat to police reform once you get it.
I just wanted to mention quickly, what are some of the two key findings of my research and what are the focus of my research, in addition to these political winds shifting. One is that police have a lot of what I call “structural power.” Because they’re in charge of providing local security and can sell themselves as being the ones that control whether or not there’s violence, they actually have a lot of power over politicians. They actually are able to convince politicians that, “If you don’t keep us happy, we’re not going to go out and do our jobs, and so you’re going to have a security crisis in this city.”
We’ve seen in places like Bahia in Brazil, and the state of Espírito Santo as well, police went on strike, and homicides, even in the span of a week or two, just shot up. All kinds of crimes just shot up. So police are credibly able to convince politicians that if you don’t keep us happy, we can just not do our jobs, and you’re going to have a crisis on your hands.
And another thing that happens is that politicians like to use the police to pursue their own political interests. One of the things that I have written about, and that was very poignant to me in my research is that, you would think that what’s going to determine what police do is the situation on the ground. What do security conditions look like in this community? We’re going to respond to it. But I found that in many instances, political factors are actually determining what police do. I’ll give you two examples from my research in São Paulo.
In one, a police commander who was working in a downtown area of the city, where many protests take place, was telling me that they often will get phone calls from the mayor or the governor telling them how to act against these protestors. “Either you can use a lot of force against them because people don’t like them, or because I don’t like them because they’re my opponents,” or “Be very lenient to them, because it would look bad if you were to be violent against these particular protesters, because they’re very popular.” So policing of a protest didn’t have anything to do with what was happening at the protest; it was coming down from the political demands of their political leaders. I saw similar things happen in more powerful sectors of the city, where richer people lived got a lot more resources, so they got a lot more police cars or motorcycles or money than communities that were poorer but had much more serious problems in terms of violence. Because some actors have more resources to mobilize politically and put pressure on politicians, they’re able to get politicians to shift where police send their resources.
That was something that I saw routinely in São Paulo, but that is not limited to São Paulo, right? That is something that probably happens in a lot of different places. The ability of police to exercise that power, where they are seeing politicians’ need to pursue their political interests, and that they can claim, “If you don’t keep us happy, we’re going to create a crisis for you,” give the police a lot of power to block reforms, and to put very successful forms of resistance against these types of reforms.
The last thing I would say is that one of the things that I was most surprised by, in doing my research, is that one of the big factors that actually makes reform difficult is that we, as a society, can’t really even agree about what we want from the police. Some of us might criticize the police and say, “Police are racist, they’re discriminatory, they are only targeting the poor, they’re targeting the most vulnerable sectors of our society.” The part that many of us are missing in that discourse is that there is another sector of society that is asking for the police to go out and do that. I sat in these community meetings, and again, I’m going to mention São Paulo, but this is not only limited to São Paulo, where the police commander announced that there had been a “shootout” between a police officer and a bandido, a criminal. And he said, “Unfortunately, the criminal was killed.” And people applauded. People applauded, and they were like, “Graças a Deus” (Thank God), applauding a police killing that they knew nothing about. Without any information about the killing, they were applauding the fact that this police officer had announced a killing.
Again, this is in a low-income community where there’s all kinds of activity happening in terms of the ways that police may be abusing people’s rights, and whatnot. The police are coming face-to-face with people who are applauding when they’re killing. There is a certain societal demand that comes, typically from the more powerful sectors. And it’s not always killing. São Paulo is an extreme case. That wouldn’t happen in every city where people applaud when police have announced that they’ve killed someone, but they might say, “Those poor young people, they’re not from this neighborhood. They look suspicious. Can you go check them out?” Those are actions where more powerful sectors of society are driving discriminatory policing against more vulnerable sectors of society.
And so until we, as a society, can do more to come together about what it is that we want from the police, and understanding that some things the police should not be called for, the police are not the ones that should be addressing the fact that maybe we don’t have opportunities for youth. Maybe other segments of society and of the state should be charged with addressing that issue. But instead often the response is just to get the police involved. Until we address those conflicts in our own societies, it’s going to be very difficult to then make a claim or a demand to the police that you need to reform. Because they’re always going to be able to point to some sector of society that says, “Well, they support us. They’re asking us to do this.” I found that that is, I would say, one of the main aspects to why it’s so difficult to reform the police.
Yanilda González, it’s been a pleasure having you here today. Thank you for joining us.
Thank you so much.
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