Class Dismissed: Brazilian Police Abandon Protocol During Teachers’ Protests

Brazilian anthropologist and documentary film maker Marcos Moura on renewed protests in Rio de Janeiro. Photos by Carlos Eduadro Vallinoti.

But do you have a hall pass?

The police protocol was not to have a protocol

The protests that rattled Brazil in June and July have largely receded from global attention. The movement, however, continues.  Though reduced in reduced size, the battle continues, as shown by ongoing protests in Rio de Janeiro now led by the local teachers union.

In response to the violent police crack down on October 1 during a protest organized by the Teacher’s Union of Rio de Janeiro State (SEPE), teachers once again took to the streets in the center of Rio on Monday October 7 to protest against the state and municipal government.

The initial protest on October 1 turned violent when police attacked protesters. The crowd, made up almost exclusively of teachers, was demonstrating against the service and salary plan proposed by the municipal education secretary of Rio de Janeiro.

Meanwhile this time around, representatives of civil social and ordinary citizens joined the educators to protest against the police violence Rio de Janeiro has suffered in different ways for years.

A spiral of protests and police violence triggers more protests

The violence followed a week in which police were officially been charged with the violent death of Amarildo de Souza, a young man who was tortured and killed inside the Pacification Police station in Rocinha, one of Rio’s most infamous favelas. With tensions already high, protester took to the streets of the city’s center bearing slogans such as: “the teacher is my friend – mess with him you mess with me”.

Between 5 pm and 9 pm a peaceful protest united more than 50,000 people according to the Teachers Union (10,000 according to the police).

In contrast to previous protests, especially those in June, the crowd waved many flags of political parties and organized civil society groups. The rule of “Sem partido” (“without party”) has lost force since the protests started.

This suggests that there is space within the protest movement for diverse ideas, which are represented by parties, labor unions, and social movements. This also serves to show that there is still no homogeneity of ideas or opinions within the protest movement.

No one knew how the police would react. The October 1 protest had been characterized by the relentless use of force against the teachers. In contrast, during the entirety of October 7 protest very little police presence was observed in the streets. Fire engines and ambulances were also conspicuously absent. The entire state apparatus, typically mobilized during massive gatherings, was missing in action.


The police protocol was not to have a protocol

It appeared that the police protocol was not to have a protocol at all. The strategy the state government had come up with to spare the teachers and other protesters from any form of police violence was to radically reduce the police presence in the streets and, consequently, to greatly reduce the possibility for police violence.

However, the lack of clear police protocol during large demonstrations means that the population, as well as the police officers, can become easy targets.  Quite simply nobody knows the rules, if any exist at all.

The protest ended when rain began to fall over the city and the crowds dispersed into the night. Those who insisted on staying stood witnessed to the acts Black Bloc protests against the City Council, banks and other symbols of capitalism, which provoked a response by the police whose headquarters are located next to the City Council.

The following morning, the newspapers would say that the peaceful protest ended in riots and vandalism. Also, anthropologists and sociologists would be left puzzled by the anarchism and violence of Black Bloc, which is a completely new phenomenon in Brazil.

Seems like the protests could provide a teachable moment here.

But all the teachers were out in the streets.

Do you have a hall pass?

Do you have a hall pass?

Marcos Moura is a Rio based anthropologist, specializing in public safety, culture and citizenship. He serves as an advisor on human rights and public safety for UNESCO in Brazil and has worked with Brazilian film maker Carlos Diegues on documentary films. 

This piece was translated from Portuguese by  Cornelius Fleischhaker

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