Rifles: In Rio’s City Center no, but in the favela yes?!

For the original article by Eliana Sousa Silva in Portuguese on Redes da Maré click here.

“Rifles should be used in war, in police operations in the communities and favelas. It is not a weapon to be used in an urban area” — Rodrigo Pimentel

The comment above is from the public security consultant Rodrigo Pimentel from the first edition of a TV broadcast on RJ TV on June 18. The comment was made in a natural, rational, and sound way as he analyzed an image of a military police officer with a rifle shooting upwards, but in the direction of violent protestors in front of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro. He was pointing out the lack of preparation among public security professionals, calling attention to the fact that, “even if the shot is being pointed upwards, it will descend and could lethally hurt anyone.”

The observation from the current public security commentator of TV Globo (second largest TV network in the world), is extremely pedagogical, as it thoroughly demonstrates how the majority of our society thinks, especially the authorities, and shows how public policies are idealized and put into effect based on a hierarchical view of the city and its citizens. In the case of this report, the affirmation that the rifle couldn’t be used in an urban area in response to protests, but could in the favelas or in a war, shows that how life is valued in our city depends on the territory or on the people of whom we are speaking. In the end, what defines the fundamental difference for the use of an automatic weapon, when we speak about citizens from the same city and as highlighted, is that in the case of the favelas, we have citizens who are not guaranteed the basic right of public security.

It is sad to have to reaffirm what is so obvious: the use of heavy weapons is not justified in protests or in the favelas, nor is the police violence characteristic of the last protests as shown by the international media, and historically in the favelas. Nevertheless, I ask myself, when has it been any different? Has there been a moment in our political history when state powers’ attitudes reflected respect and recognition of the population’s right to protest? When those who govern our country legitimized democratic mechanisms and means? When and how are we encouraged daily to exercise our right to participate?

Rodrigo Pimentel joined Rio de Janeiro’s military police force at the age of eighteen. He worked as a captain for the Special Operations Battalion, BOPE, for five years and gained notoriety when he participated in the documentary “News from a Personal War” and other films related to the favelas and criminal groups. He left the police force to dedicate himself as a professional public security analyst, made possible by his professional trajectory in the field. And, in particular, by his profound criticism, in the aforementioned documentary by João Moreira Salles, about the strategy used by police in favelas to combat the drug traffic.

What is terrifying in listening to Pimentel’s words, is that these are the opinions/analysis of a professional who is considered a good parameter for understanding what is happening with Rio de Janeiro’s public security. It is by way of visions such as that presented by Rodrigo Pimentel that perverse and stereotyped judgments about Rio’s favelas are formed and strengthened.

When I conducted my doctoral research in 2009 in the field of public security, I was motivated to understand the practices of the military police in the favelas, especially in Maré. The questions I proposed, several of which accompany me today, relate directly to Pimentel’s statement. My intention and desire, as someone who grew up and developed socially within the favela, was to build an interpretative view of the daily practices in Maré, especially the violent ones, that permits going beyond the hegemonic representations of the carioca social world with regards to violence in Rio’s favelas. Of these, two are directly related to Pimentel’s quote: “what are the representations, values, principles, and rules followed by public security professionals, when it comes to working with the poorest residents of Rio de Janeiro?” and “how to change the fact that the dominant experiences and representations of State organizations, the media, and the general population are concentrated on the idea that the only possible way to confront criminal groups is, by necessity, also through violent practices?”

The apparently sensible quote from the commentator is simply an expression of a perverse, violent, and irrational logic propagated throughout society and State forces, that view both civil society and favela populations as “problems” to be eliminated and not as subjects with rights that should be recognized and respected.

Eliana Sousa Silva is Professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Executive Director of Redes da Maré (Community Networks of Maré)