In Ferguson, Missouri, USA Michael Brown was gunned down by a local police officer and a wave of protests rightfully took over the town, demanding justice and an end to police abuse and militarization But what about the Brazilian Fergusons?
In Brazil, police are routinely abusive, especially against poor young people from cities’s peripheries. Their use of extortion, beatings and torture is widespread. Their disproportionate reactions or flat out executions are rarely investigated, let alone punished.
A few months ago, Claudia Silva Ferreira, whose only “crime” was having a cup of coffee in hand, was shot, taken to a police car to be transported to the hospital, then put in the trunk. When the trunk opened, her body hung from the bumper and was dragged for more than 1000 feet. She was then put back inside the car.
It’s not an isolated case: In the state of Sao Paulo, for instance, in 2012, 95% of the wounded in police conflicts died on the way to the hospital. After the prohibition on transporting wounded people and the police being obligated to contact specialized help, there were 39% fewer deaths.
Every Brazilian should be more or less acquainted with such facts. But few know the legal instrument that gives the police a license to kill: The “resistance file.”
According to Juliana Farias, a researcher for human rights NGO Justica Global, “it is important to remember that the denomination [of resistance files] was created during the [military] dictatorship and it is a term that was used then and is used now to cover up police actions that should be filed as homicide.”
The resistance file works as a license to kill because filing a supposed “resistance followed by death” report creates a presumption in favor of the police officer. Any person who involves herself in a confrontation and is then gunned down can just be put in the resistance file, as if the police version were true by default and their actions were justified in face of the “resisting” individual. It’s not a mere presumption of innocence of the police officer, but a presumption of guilt of the person who was put in a resistance file. In the case of Ferreira, the police officers responsible for her death were involved in 62 resistance files and 69 deaths.
The presumption of innocence does not mean that eventual crimes shouldn’t be investigated, but resistance files are used to avoid investigations altogether. The archiving of police investigations involving resistance is recurring.
Deputy Paulo Teixeira adds: “The resistance filings are remains from the dictatorship. In Rio de Janeiro, 12,000 resistance files were analyzed and 60% of them were flat out executions, many with a shot in the nape. We want these people to answer for murder.”
Black and poor people are even more affected by this police privilege. In an conference for the abolition of resistance filings, Vinicius Romao, an actor who stayed in jail for 16 days for being supposedly mistaken for a criminal, stated: “The police officer pointed the gun at me because of my skin color. I didn’t become a ‘resistance file’ only because I never tried to run away. I stayed calm because I have a degree in psychology and I believed that in a few minutes the mistake would be sorted out. But I was taken in flagrante for armed assault. I wasn’t stopped in the street of the occurrence nor did I have any weapon. I was arrested because I had a black power. The media only paid attention when they announced that a soap opera actor had been caught. ‘Soap opera actor’ sells more newspapers than ‘black man.'”
Human rights groups support the replacement of the “resistance” or “resistance followed by death” files with “body injury derived from police intervention” or “homicide derived from police intervention,” with guaranteed follow-up investigation.
The resistance filings denote exactly what the Brazilian state is about. The police forces not only monopolize the prevention and investigation of crimes, but they also possess a legal instrument easily convertible into a license to kill. It’s not by chance that exterminations, extra-judicial executions and “disappearings” are epidemic in Brazilian cities. It’s hard to imagine alternative systems being so easily exploitable.
As Robert Nozick remarked, every individual has a right to a trustworthy and impartial system of law and to resist procedures perceived as untrustworthy or unjust. In Brazil, however, resistance is futile and it doesn’t cause any commotion anymore.
In a scenario in which the rights of the individual are recognized and one’s freedom to choose her own defense mechanisms is upheld, resistance files as they are used by the Brazilian state would be illegal.
In the USA, Michael Brown’s death revolted many and Ferguson’s population demanded justice. If Michael Brown were from Brazil, he would be a statistic in resistance files.
With that, Brazil has legalized police violence. So when you see the Americans protesting their government, remember: Ferguson is here.
Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos.