In 2022, the number of people killed by police in just eight Brazilian states reached 4,219. Of this total, 2,700 were considered black (black or mixed race) by police authorities - 65.7% of the total. If only those who informed their skin color/race are considered (3,171), the proportion of blacks reaches 87.4%.
The data were published in the study “Target skin: the bullet never misses a black," by the Security Observatory Network from the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies (Cesec, in Portuguese) and released last Thursday (16), based on statistics shared by the police departments of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Bahia, Pernambuco, Ceará, Piauí, Maranhão and Pará via Brazil’s Access to Information Law (known as LAI in Portuguese).
Of the eight states, only Maranhão did not report the color/race of any of the dead. In the states of Ceará and Pará, there is a large number of fatal victims without color/race identified: 69.7% and 66.2% of the total, respectively.
The data shows that Bahia's military police was the most lethal in 2022, responsible for 1,465 deaths (1,183 victims had their skin color/race specified). Of this number, 1,121 were black, that is, 94.8% of those whose skin color/race were informed, which is a percentage higher than that of blacks in the state’s population (80.8%). The research was based on data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE, in Portuguese).
Indeed, it was seen in all seven states where the skin color/race of part of the victims was informed. In Pará state, for instance, 93.9% of the dead whose skin color or race was specified were black, while the percentage of blacks in the state’s population is 80.5%, according to the study.
The other states presented the following proportions of black deaths among those with skin color/race specified and percentages of blacks in the population: Pernambuco (89.7% and 65.1%, respectively), Rio de Janeiro (87% and 54.4%), Piauí (88.2% and 79.3%), Ceará (80.43% and 71.7%) and São Paulo (63.9% and 40.3%).
“Black people are the biggest part of the dead by the police. When the number of dead and the total of blacks in the population are compared, it can be seen that there are more blacks victimized by the police than the percentage of blacks in the population. This factor is easily explained by structural racism and by the consent of society regarding the violence perpetrated against black people,” said Pablo Nunes, the coordinator of Cesec.
Nunes also highlights the lack of records about the skin color and race of those killed by the police in the states of Maranhão, Ceará and Pará. “The difficulty of being transparent with these data also reveals another face of racism, which is the face of not looking at it the way it needs to. If we don’t have data to show the problem, we ‘don’t have’ a problem. If ‘there is no’ problem, public policies don’t need to be created.”
The study also shows that this year, Bahia surpassed Rio de Janeiro as the state with the highest number of deaths (1,465 and 1,330, respectively). In the third place is Pernambuco, with 631 deaths. “It represents a scenario of degradation of Bahia’s police forces and a lack of public policies by state governments to deal with this issue, having it as a priority and establishing goals and indicators to reduce police lethality,” said Nunes.
According to the Observatory Network, the fourth edition of the study shows a growing level of police lethality against black people. “In the four years covered by the study, once again, the total of black people killed by police represents the largest number. And the consistency of this number, year after year, highlights the violent and racist structure in the actions of these security agents in the states, without pointing to any prospect of real change,” says Silvia Ramos, a researcher at the network.
According to her, it is necessary to understand this phenomenon as a political and social issue. “Deaths due to police actions also bring losses to the corporations that produce them. We need to allocate resources that guarantee a public policy that effectively brings security to the entire population,” she adds.
In a statement, the São Paulo Security Department informed that the police approaches comply with technical parameters regulated by law, which created the Citizenship and Human Dignity Division. Also, it said its approach protocols were reviewed. Furthermore, it offers courses to improve their work (in training courses, agents study anti-racist actions).
A commission analyzes all incidents caused by police approaches and is dedicated to adjusting its practices. São Paulo Civil Police is seeking to “establish guidelines and objective, rational and legal parameters without any kind of discrimination related to race, color, ethnicity and origin in police’s activities.”
The Department of Public Security and Social Defense of Pará state (Segup) reports that, from January to October 2023, Pará achieved a 22% reduction in deaths due to the intervention of State agents, compared to the same period in 2022, when it was recorded, respectively, 440 and 569 cases throughout Pará. Segup emphasizes that the incidents are registered by the Integrated Public Security System by the Civil Police and that the “race/color” field is not mandatory, as the information is declaratory in nature by relatives or the victim at the time of registration.
In Bahia state, the Public Security Department emphasizes that police actions are based on legality and that any incident that deviates from this premise is rigorously investigated and all necessary legal measures are taken. The department informs that it constantly invests in training staff and also in new technologies, always seeking to reduce lethality and preserve life.
To this end, a working group was created to discuss and develop policies that help reduce police lethality, promoting in-depth analysis of the information arising from these incidents, such as the profile of the people involved, contextualization and region, among other data that can contribute to decreasing these rates. The department also mentions that the majority of police calls are made via 190 (Integrated Communications Center) and 181 (“Disque Denúncia”, the equivalent to We Tip in the US), in addition to operations to comply with warrants determined by the Court.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the press office of the State Department of the Military Police informs that, in all training and improvement courses for enlisted personnel and officers, the curriculum includes disciplines such as human rights, ethics, constitutional and special laws law as an absolute priority. The racial issue permeates, in a very incisive way, all these doctrines in the formation of the corporation's staff.
According to the press office, internally, the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro have done their part to face the challenge of structural racism for more than two centuries. It was the first corporation to offer black people a career in the public service, and today more than 40% of its staff is made up of people of African descent.
The institution is also proud of its pioneering spirit in having black people in leading roles. The black Military Police Colonel Carlos Magno Nazareth Cerqueira led the corporation during two administrations, in the 1980s and 1990s, becoming a philosophical reference for the entire troop, by introducing the concepts of citizen police and proximity police. Over the past 40 years, other black officers have held the corporation's top position.
Agência Brasil has contacted the police in other states, and is awaiting their position.