Rio’s staggering public-security problem

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Date added: 17-06-26



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‘Hope is not evenly distributed – what hopes there are and who has access to them depend on where you are located… To be clear, there have been ‘no hopers’ for quite some time – an underclass living a kind of social death of meaningless, pointless lives, hidden away behind ASBOs on estates…’[1] Launched in 2008, pacificação was a bold attempt to tackle Rio’s staggering public-security problem. Initially troops entered to chase out the drug dealers. Then came specially trained police, who instead of their usual model of crashing into favelas on bloody raids and then decamping, would move in and stay. A fifth of the city’s population was living under the control of drug dealers – not in remote or isolated suburbs, but in the favelas that carpet the hills in the middle of the city and are nestled all through it.[2] Rio’s homicide rates were among the highest in the world. The favelas were no-go zones for the police, and for most other branches of the state, creating pockets of isolation and lawlessness that sometimes spilled over into the rest of the postcard city. With the World Cup looming, and a bid in to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the city decided to embark on a new strategy. It is all but impossible to consider poverty, inequality and, indeed, the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in general in Brazil, without addressing the question of violence. In short, violence in Brazil is not incidental to poverty and inequality, but rather, an inherent element of these phenomena. To be poor is not only to struggle to obtain adequate education[3] and health services[4], or to find paid work in the formal sector, it is also to face the constant risk, or repercussions of violence in the home and on the streets.[5] Stigmatisation from politicians (example - Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro; calling for abortions to be legalised to quell criminality and the production of delinquents)[6], stereotyping and profiling, in turn, reinforces social exclusion – children are afraid to attend school, forced evictions, absence of opportunities drives adolescents into illegal activities, and men and women “tainted with the crime associated with their area of residence”[7]are incapable of finding work. Similarly, 'In Britain today chances in life [for British citizens] are now more determined by where (and to whom) they were born as compared to any other date in the last 651 years'.[8] In the second quarter of 2014; 954,000 people aged 16-24 were NEET (not in education, employment or training).[9] This represents approximately one million young people for whom everyday life is saturated by a crisis of opportunity, where the concept of a future in which engagement in the social and economic life of the state, is profoundly uncertain.[10] Research has demonstrated, in relation to riots, that an ambience of cultural resentment and victimisation is felt amongst the perpetrators of the violence, weeks or months before the mayhem ensues.[11] The violence is a manifestation of frustration to the extreme inequalities of possibilities. As one rioter explained: “I literally went there to say, 'All right then, well, everyone's getting free stuff, I'm joining in', like, 'cos, it's fucking my area. These fucking shops, like, I've given them a hundred CVs … not one job. That's why I left my house.”[12] Inequalities of the labour market, social retrenchment, erosion of the welfare state,[13] combined with contraction of employment opportunities and urban disinvestment by the state, immerse these neighbourhoods into a whirlwind of social insecurity and thrust their residents into the informal economy. Crumpled by the weight of constant unemployment, local residents look to the informal economy of the streets for the means to survive, provide for and to acquire consumer goods, if not to escape from the grind of day-to-day destitution.[14] The emphasis in government strategy on social control rather than social steering should be noted. The gap is being ‘managed’ rather than ‘narrowed’: it is criminal justice rather than social justice policies. [15] The relationship between poverty and crime was founded upon the view that the poor were responsible for their situation, which was attributed to “undisciplined behaviour, lack of thrift, vagrancy, idleness, lewdness or drunkenness”.[16] The assumption was based on the belief that the poor were negligent, they required strict regulation and instruction; if such regulation was not applied, crime would eventuate. Certain conduct deserves strict punishment because it shows a failure ofself-discipline.[17] Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1992) describes the ideology of the ‘dangerousness of the poor,’[18] in which the poor are seen as being inheritably ‘guilty of criminal needs’ while the crimes of the wealthy are implicitly a part of a superior, less controllable system. This ideology enables a government to turn against its own citizens. In reaction to the riots, David Cameron described the behaviour as; “….pure criminality…not about government cuts… not about poverty… No, this was about behaviour…people with a twisted moral code…”[19] Endeavouring to justify where in fact this behaviour stems from, David Cameron later states; “Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control.”[20] The emergence of the penal state in many societies today is a justification for rising social insecurity, not criminal insecurity. The association of certain economic and social categories with criminality is further propelled by media depictions of poverty. Fear mongering and scapegoating reinforce negative stereotypes of such revolting subjects.[21] Thus, lower-class crime on the streets is perceived as being more detrimental and disruptive than upper-class law breaking in corporate arenas. Naturally discriminatory practices are readily employed by the police. Evidence suggests that stop and search disproportionately targets lower class youth, typically residing in areas of deprivation.[22] Once having come under the radar of the police, young people are descended into a spiral of intensified contact and conflict.[23] This disparity is intentional - focusing on matters of domestic ‘security’ whilst deflecting the state’s responsibility in socio economic affairs, removes the onus of inequalities created by governing elites. [24] Within the context of Brazil and the UK there is a shocking, derogatory perception of the poor, reinforced by political denial and blame. Experiences of poverty, unemployment, inequality and discrimination are not being acknowledged. Instead, stigmatisation, stereotyping and individual blame ensues exacerbated by moral panics, contrived by a hungry exploitative media machine, publicly dramatising the agenda of political elites to eliminate the beast of urban crime and its delinquent perpetrators. Criminalisation of the poor is operating as a form of governance to permit the reproduction and permeation of inequalities. Such criminalisation has entrenched the belief that inequality is warranted which consequently promotes stigmatisation of impoverished communities. “What has been taken from them to make them so angry? Hope, that's what. Hope, and the fragile bubble of social aspiration that sustained us through decades of mounting inequality; hope and the belief that if we worked hard and did as we were told and bought the right things, some of us at least would get the good jobs and safe places to live that we'd been promised.”[25]
[1] Bloom, C Riot City: Protest and Rebellion in the Capital (Palgrave: Basingstoke, 2012) 19 [2] World Organisation Against Torture, The Criminalization of Poverty: A Report on the Economic, Social and Cultural Root Causes of Torture and Other Forms of Violence in Brazil, 12 April 2009 [3] Urban slums report. The case of Sao Paolo, 2003 [ Mariana Fix, Pedro Arantes, Giselle Tanaka ] [4] Gavin Turrell, Belinda Hewitt, Carla Patterson and Brian Oldenburg (2003). Measuring socio-economic position in dietary research: is choice of socio-economic indicator important?. Public Health Nutrition, 6, pp 191-200 [5] Solar, C. (2013), Living in the Crossfire: Favela Residents, Drug Dealers, and Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro - by Moreira Alves, Maria H. and Evanson, Philip. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 32:508–509. [6] World Organisation Against Torture, The Criminalization of Poverty: A Report on the Economic, Social and Cultural Root Causes of Torture and Other Forms of Violence in Brazil, 12 April 2009 [7] Alston, Philip (2008) “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economical, Social and Cultural Rights including the Right to Development. Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Mr Philip Alston. Addendum. Mission to Brazil”. 29 August 2008 [8] DORLING, D, (2007) A Think Piece for the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, Wetherby: Communities and Local Government Publications. [9] Davies, J. NEET: Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training - Commons Library Standard Note. 20 November 2014 [10] BERLANT, L. (2011) Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press. [11] Aiello G, Pariante CM. Citizen, interrupted: the 2011 English riots from a psychosocial perspective. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 2013;22(1):75-79 [12] LEWIS, P. Newburn, T. & Roberts, D. (2011) Reading the Riots: Investigating England's Summer of Disorder. London: The Guardian, London School of Economics. [13] Imogen Tyler. (2013) Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain,London: Zed Books. [14] WACQUANT, L. (2008) Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press. [15] RODGER, J.J. (2008) Criminalising Social Policy: Anti-social behaviour and welfare in a de-civilised society. Cullopmton: Willan Publishing. [16] Buchan, B. 2002. ‘Zero Tolerance, Mandatory Sentencing and Early Liberal Arguments for Penal Reform.’ International Journal of the Sociology of Law 30 (3): 201-18 [17] O’Sullivan, D., Down, B., 2001. Policy decisionmaking models in practice: a case study of the Western Australian ‘‘Sentencing Acts’’. Policy Studies Journal 29, 56–70. [18] Scheper-Hughes, Nancy (1992) Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, Berkeley: University of California Press [19] [20] [21] Imogen Tyler (2013)Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain,London: Zed Books. [22] Winlow, S. and Atkinson, R. eds. (2012) New Directions in Crime and Deviancy, London: Routledge [23] Winlow, S. and Atkinson, R. eds. (2012) New Directions in Crime and Deviancy, London: Routledge [24] MACADAM . 7 days in Lawless Britain. The Sun. 03rd August 2007 ( [25] Laurie Penny, New Statesman, 3rd Dec 2010
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