Brazil: Police Restrain Students at the University of São Paulo

[All links in this article lead to Portuguese language pages.]

The military police  launched a blitz operation at the University of São Paulo (USP) after approaching three students smoking marijuana Thursday night (October 27, 2011) at the School Philosophy, Languages and Humanities (FFLCH). Dozens of police cars surrounded one of the school's buildings, where hundreds of people were protesting the incarceration of students caught smoking marijuana, an illegal drug in Brazil.

According to Lieutenant Luiz Henrique Salles, the students obstructed the police as they attempted to take the three individuals to the police district where the crime was to be registered. The school rector, Professor Sandra Nitrini, attempted to mediate the situation and offered to accompany the students to the police station, but she was reprehended by the protesters who feared administrative measures would be taken against the students found in possession of the drug.

Alunos da USP solicitam a saída da polícia militar do campus. Foto do autor

USP students ask military police to withdraw from the campus. Photo by the author.

More security, less repression

The police's actions on the public university's campus, which involved the use of smoke bombs and truncheons, have divided the academic community. A few hours after the confusion broke out at the FFLCH, many people demonstrated both for and against police action on the university campus.

On Twitter, Samuel Gerez (@samuelgerez) supported the actions of the military police (PM):

Hj a PM esta na historia usp. 15 viaturas e 8 motos. Querem prender maconheiros. Eu acho certo.

PM at the USP Dept. of History today. 15 cop cars and 8 motorcycles. They want to apprehend weed smokers. I agree.

Journalism student Andrea Wirkus (@andrea_wk) preferred to question the public security that the military police have been providing at the university, which was stepped up after student Felipe Ramos de Paiva, age 24, was killed in the parking lot at one of the USP schools in May 2011.

Não que eu seja contra ou a favor da PM na USP, mas os policiais perdem mais tempo revistando alunos do que protegendo…

Not that I am against the PM on campus, but the police spend more time inspecting students than protecting them…

An increase in violence on the USP campus, which is located in the Butantã neighborhood, has raised concerns among the academic community, but the police presence is not an isolated occurrence. Prior to Felipe's death, the military police intervened minimally, especially on account of heavy resistance by students, professors and university employees who fear the kind of repression that occurred yesterday.

The rector of the University of São Paulo's School of Geography, Professor André Martin, is one of the professors who does not believe that the police are effectively providing [better] campus security. Martin says “the military police do not understand the nature of the agreement” with the university:

O meu ponto de vista é a tragédia anunciada, porque, a partir do momento que se decidiu isso [presença da polícia no campus], esse episódio já estava previsto, porque a polícia militar vai imaginar que deve ter um comportamento, na cidade universitária, idêntico ao que tem na cidade como um todo.

Há um protocolo que coloca a polícia militar no campus para proteger a comunidade universitária contra assaltos, contra crimes. Segundo esse protocolo, não está prevista a abordagem para a repressão à droga. Este é o ponto do tumulto. Os policiais alegam que, no caso de flagrado o uso de entorpecentes, eles não podem se omitir, porque isso seria crime de prevaricação.

My point of view is that of the foretold tragedy because, from the moment this [police presence on campus] started, yesterday's episode was bound to happen since the military police thought they could act on the university campus as they do in city as a whole.

There is an agreement that allows for the military police to remain on the campus in order to protect the university community from assaults and crimes. According to this agreement, restraining people on account of drugs is not taken into consideration. The police claim that they cannot overlook the use of drugs on campus because such would constitute a crime of police nonfeasance.

On Twitter, professor, sociologist and journalist Laurindo Leal (@Lalolealfilho) questions police intervention on campus, referring to the police repression in the case of a person caught using marijuana to denounce the supposed intent of the military police on the campus.

Alguém tinha dúvida de que a volta da PM ao campus da USP era para reprimir estudantes? Anotem: os próximos serão funcionários e professores.

Did anyone ever doubt that the return of the military police to the USP campus was to restrain students? Note: next in line are employees and professors.

Many professors participated alongside the students in the protests against the police actions taken against the student found using marijuana. Professor Marlene Suano of the Department of History was one of the professors who tried to calm the police and students in the midst of the altercations. She ended up being struck by a police officer who was reacting to provocations by a student.

O aluno estava agredindo o policial, que levantou o cassetete para se defender e eu me coloquei na frente. Ele (o aluno) queria sangue. O que fazer com um policial desses?

The student was attacking the police officer, who raised his truncheon in defense, and I got in his way. He (the student) wanted blood. What's one to do with a police officer like this?

The conspicuous presence of the military police on the campus reminds us of the “lead years,” the time in which Brazil faced a coup d'état that limited civil rights and violently repressed all opposition movements, including those that took place at the universities. Given this, the military's actions on campus are facing strong opposition from the academic community, as demonstrated by social scientist Stênio Soares on the blog Cálice:

Se por um lado ainda temos fresca a memória da atuação dos militares nas universidades brasileiras durante o regime autoritário (1964-1985), temos um presente pleno de desigualdade socio-econômica. Alguém poderia me citar qual a atuação da excelentíssima Universidade de São Paulo diante desse problema? Não vale falar qual é o compromisso, afinal sabemos bem. Mas quais são as relações que a USP estabelece, por exemplo, com as comunidades pobres que lhe margeia? Não poupem as repostas, vamos tocar direto na ferida. Se a criminalidade associada a má distribuição de renda chega ao berço da classe média paulistana, também temos uma quantidade relativa de estudantes que lutam pela liberdade de comportamento e questionamento (afinal, são acadêmicos que ali frequentam). Se a universidade prioriza soluções racionais para resolver seus problemas, porque a necessidade de buscar uma força autoritária, cuja educação profissional e histórica está atrelada à violência e à opressão?

If, on the one hand, the memories of military action on Brazilian university campuses during the authoritarian regime (1964-1985) are still fresh in our minds, [on the other hand] we have a present that is replete with social and economic inequality. Could someone please show me what the esteemed University of São Paulo is doing in the face of this problem? It does not count to say what the compromise is, which we well know. But what are the relations that the university establishes, for example, with the poor communities that surround it? Let us not hold back answers; let us get right to the painful heart of it. While the criminality associated with poor distribution of income reaches the heart of the middle class of the city of São Paulo, we also have a number of students who fight for freedom of behavior and questioning (after all, it is academics who frequent the area). If the university prioritizes rational solutions to solve its problems, why is there the need to seek authoritarian force with its professional training and history linked to violence and oppression?

The university is a space for dialogue and knowledge building, principles that do not go well with the idea of public security based on the exclusive use of force that has historically guided police actions on and off campus.

Amidst the commotion between the students and the police, Professor Ana Fani, from the School of Geography, made a request that actually should apply to anyone's presence on the university campus.  “I am asking that the police withdraw and let us continue with our professional duties, allowing us to take the students inside so that we can calmly and tranquilly continue with our tasks. Nothing tragic happened; there are no terrorists here; we just want to have classes.”

This article was written in collaboration with Amanda Previdelli. Some of the statements were made directly to the author of the post.

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