"When you see the details of this case, there's just no way you cannot think of Eric Garner," community activist Marques Travae said. Except Travae was not referring to George Floyd, the black Minneapolis resident who suffocated under the knee of a local police officer. Rather, he was referring to Pedro Henrique Gonzaga, a Brazilian victim of police brutality, who was strangled to death by a security guard in February 2019. Smartphones recorded the horrific scene, one all too familiar to the residents of Rio de Janeiro. In 2019, the police killed 1,814 people in Rio de Janeiro alone, a city with a smaller population than New York City. In other words, the police killed nearly five people per day in Rio--an 18 percent increase from 2018 to 2019. By contrast, the Washington Post estimates that 1,009 people in the entire United States were shot and killed by the police in 2019.
Police brutality in the United States consistently makes global headlines and sparks international outrage. At first glance, Brazilian police brutality seems like a disparate phenomenon from American police brutality. Compared to the United States, Brazil is a relatively young democracy, and some argue that violence perpetrated by law enforcement is a vestige of authoritarianism the country has yet to outgrow. Additionally, gangs are embroiled in a bloody war across Brazil, constantly skirmishing between themselves, police forces, and private militias. Thus, police brutality could just be the natural result of the government responding to criminal activity. American police brutality is usually viewed as a product of antiblack racism; Brazil, by contrast, has long been touted as a "racial democracy" with high rates of intermarriage and a minority white population.
However, this perceived difference does not hold up to scrutiny. Brazilian police brutality shares many characteristics with the practices of law enforcement in the United States. Comparative analysis between police brutality in the two countries reveals three major similarities. One, black and dark-skinned citizens experience disproportionately high rates of police brutality in both countries. Two, police forces in both countries are highly militarized. And three, police brutality in both countries is the result of shocking weaknesses in regulatory policy.
Sharing an Original Sin: The Transatlantic Slave Trade
Both Brazil and the United States participated in the transatlantic slave trade, in which upwards of 15 million Africans were captured, sold, and transported across the Atlantic. Understanding the history of slavery is essential to grasping similarities between modern policing practices in the two countries.
The transatlantic slave trade has determined modern race relations in both countries in many ways. While US involvement in the slave trade is heavily discussed in academia, Brazil's involvement in the slave trade is often overlooked. Brazil actually eclipsed the United States as the largest importer of African slaves, with seven times more slaves than the United States. As a result of the slave trade, both countries have large black populations. But while the US legacy of slavery transformed into Jim Crow and other overtly discriminatory policies toward...