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Martha K. Huggins

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Urban Violence and Police Privatization in Brazil: Blended Invisibility

Author Martha K. Huggins details two opposing processes operating in tandem in Brazil. The first recenters state control over internal security, as the state reins in the devolution it has fostered and protected; the second simultaneously decenters social control as the state farms out and partially loses hegemony over some sectors of internal security to private security organizations and groups. These contradictory pressures have contributed in Brazil to a functioning symbiosis between centralizing and privatizing tendencies. Privatized policing carries out the state’s dirty work from its socially and politically liminal status, which falls somewhere between being on- and off-duty, and does what the democratic or democratizing state cannot do formally if it wishes to claim to be “democratic.” In the end, the relative institutional invisibility of privatized policing makes it a perfect supplement to failed regular policing. Privatizing internal security inevitably forces Brazil’s fledgling democracy to navigate between an expensive, bureaucratically impersonal and directly state-supervised official police violence and unofficial and only indirectly state-controlled “rent-a-cops,” death squads, and citizen lone-wolf “justice maker” murderers.

murder rates — by race; rent-a-cops; police — Brazil; crime and criminals — Brazil; police — violence; privatization; death squads; social control

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 27, No. 2 (2000): 113-134.