“It was totally different than what we had before”: Perceptions of urban militarism under Rio de Janeiro’s Pacifying Policing Units

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Abstract

Scholars argue that military ideologies, discourses, and practices are increasingly deployed in poor urban areas to control populations deemed “dangerous.” However, very little research exists to document how residents in targeted neighborhoods experience these security interventions. This article addresses this gap by considering the case of Rio de Janeiro’s UPP Program, wherein the military police occupied several of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, or low-income marginalized neighborhoods. The intervention began in 2008 and aimed to expel drug traffickers who had controlled these areas since the 1970s and install permanent policing precincts. While many studies suggest that the urban poor tend to reject aggressive policing practices, the UPP received widespread approval by favela residents in the first years of the occupation. This article draws upon ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the City of God, one of the first neighborhoods occupied by the UPP, to examine the factors underlying residents’ positive assessment of the UPP. I found that support for the UPP hinged on (a) its deviation from the brutal and ineffective military interventions deployed in the past; (b) the UPP’s ability to subdue violent drug traffickers and restore public security; (c) state investments in social services and resources attributed to the occupation; and (d) the race, gender, and age profiles of participants, wherein women, the elderly, and lighter-skinned residents reported greater approval for the UPP than young Black men. Ultimately, these findings suggest that variability between security interventions, their impact on public security and social development, and demographic diversity within targeted neighborhoods must be considered if we are to fully understand how the urban poor experience militarized security interventions.

Keywords

Urban militarism Rio de Janeiro Favelas Urban violence Policing UPP 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The research for this article would not have been possible without the support and thoughtful reflection of dozens of residents in the City of God who generously gave their time to help me navigate the community and share their ideas and experiences with me. I also owe a debt to several colleagues who assisted with various readings and suggestions around the writing of this article, including Yingchan Zhang, Anna Revette, Liza Weinstein, Thomas Vicino, Gordana Rabrenovic, Jack Levin, Ineke Marshall, and Jack Greene. Fieldwork was supported by the Law and Social Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF 15-514), the Brudnick Center for the Study of Violence and Conflict, and various grants and fellowships from Northeastern University. I also would like to thank the Qualitative Sociology editorial board and the anonymous reviewers for their time and suggestions for improving the original manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyTufts UniversityMedfordUSA

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