Does Racism Predict Police Brutality? A Comparative Analysis: The United States and Brazil

Mitch Librett, CUNY - Graduate Center/John Jay College

In recent years police in both Brazil and the United States have been accused of acts of brutality related to the racism that is endemic in both societies. This paper compares the impact of 21 years of authoritarian rule upon the Brazilian notion of the proper degree of autonomy to afford the police with the American people's conception of what the nature of policing should be in their society. It explores the nature of police sub-cultural norms in each society and how each of these themes impacts upon the degree of scrutiny that acts of police violence are likely to receive. In an era that has seen drastically reduced crime rates in the United States, a rising sensitivity to abusive police practices in the USA has led to prosecutions and some attempt at systemic reform. In Brazil, following the restoration of democratic rule in 1984, crime rates increased alarmingly. Though it might be expected that the reformist politicians that now are in control of the government would have instituted police reforms that would have reduced complaints of abuse, the opposite has occurred. The Brazilian police have continued to engage in torture and extra judicial killings, there have been few effective prosecutions, and there continues to be a sense of entitlement among the police. An entrenched "culture of impunity" that pervades the Brazilian police establishment determines both the brutality itself and public acceptance of the abuse.

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Updated 05/20/2006