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Police violence in Brazil – statistics & facts

On May 25th, 2020, the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin was caught on tape. The case was followed by protests across the world and sparked once again the conversation on police violence. While the focus was on the U.S., this situation is also all too familiar in Brazil. In fact, according to a survey conducted in June that year, around eight out of ten respondents believed cases similar to George Floyd’s were frequent in Brazil, with over half of Brazilians surveyed having heard of such specific cases.

Death toll on the rise

In 2021, almost 6,150 civilians were killed by police officers in Brazil, an average of 17 people per day. The largest figure, however, was registered the previous year, when 6,424 people were killed despite lockdown measures implemented in the country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which partially restricted the population’s mobility. The states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo – home to the most populated Brazilian cities – accounted for the largest number of citizens killed by the police, with over 40 percent of cases reported.

The growth in deaths caused by police officers that year was, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. For instance, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, the number of deaths caused by police intervention more than quadrupled between 2013 and 2019, reaching the highest annual figure reported in at least 17 years. Nevertheless, by 2021, the number of such incidents decreased from 1,814 in 2019 to 1,356.

The curse of racial profiling

In the latest national census, around half of the Brazilian population identified as brown or black. This multiethnicity frequently leads many to dismiss racism as a serious problem in the country. Nevertheless, the profile of police violence victims tells a different story. In 2021, at least three quarters of civilians killed by the police in Rio de Janeiro were people of color, while white victims made up less than 13 percent. Many states register large disproportions between the share of black population and the share of black people among mortal victims of police violence. In Pernambuco, for instance, people of color represent 62 percent of the population, but they made up 97 percent of all civilians killed by the police. Men of color in Brazil are also more likely to suffer verbal or physical assault when approached by the police, compared to their white counterparts, according to a 2020 survey. Even more worrisome, at least half of black Brazilians believe the police pose a personal threat to them, instead of ensuring public security. When it comes to white people, less than 20 percent feel the same.

Another major problem is the lack of accurate information about the ethnicity of victims of police violence. According to the latest data, the share of reported homicides committed by the police without information on the victim's ethnicity reached 100 percent in the state of Maranhão. This means that in no case of a civilian's death due to police intervention in this state was the ethnicity disclosed. In Ceará, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro this share stood at 73, 23 and 12 percent, respectively.

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