power & power relations questions

policing the city

I mostly like police** [written in 2013, update 2019, now in the times of deep corporate capture of the state, and increased militarism to protect state-corporate interests, I am wary of them] – perhaps that might be because I have never found myself on opposing ends with any one of them. And too because I tend to trust in people until they prove otherwise, if they do; and I understand the immense pressures that having a job as a security provider and law enforcer (with little pay) entails. This is not to say however, that I condone police brutality in any way whether it occurs during times of major conflict; during citizen protests in the name of ‘keeping the peace’; or in individual cases where dishonesty, ethnicism, racism, sexism, homophobia and/or transphobia affects how cases and people are handled or ignored.

That said I generally appreciate police. They help me find my way when I’m lost- in Nairobi or in other cities. I feel that they have the resources to help in case of an emergency and their job is to protect me (technically).

I don’t have a recollection of seeing police visibly in São Paulo this or last year but perhaps I was just in police-less areas or because I wasn’t doing touristy activities. Walking around in Rio’s Centro however, I began to notice police everywhere- parked in vans that were also portable offices. And not just two or 3, usually about 5- and more in areas that were tourist attractions. This got me thinking about policing the city and how police visibility is read.

The same was true of Salvador- and in this case I noticed that there were the policia militar (military police)- the ones I have become accustomed to seeing around, as well as ‘tourist police’. The first things the owner of the hostel my friend and I were to stay in, in Salvador did was to indicate which parts of the old city were safe. He shaded them in a luminous green. These turned out to be where police were permanently stationed within Pelourinho, the old centre of Salvador (Pelourinho).

Police in Pelourinho, Salvador da Bahia, the tourist section of the city

I did rely on police in both Rio and Pelourinho to get directions to bus stops and to places we wanted to go to. But I found myself wondering how the visibility of police is read by city residents.

Are they a source of fear because of discriminatory acts (which happen in Brazil as anywhere else)? Are they a source of confidence and feeling safe- and for whom? Are they a source of anger? This especially has me wondering. Especially when police are stationed in areas that are heavily touristic- who are they meant to serve. I feel that if I were a resident in one of these cities I would feel a little bit cheated to see tourists taken care of more than city residents. When I asked my friend she said that high police visibility is always two sided for her. It makes her wonder why the police are needed in such high numbers in the area to begin with.

What do you think of high police visibility?

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