“I will give the police carte blanche to kill.” “Let’s clog up the prisons with criminals.” “Police that kill thugs will be decorated.” These are all campaign trail statements from Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right Brazilian presidential candidate who will likely win second round elections on October 28. A cornerstone of his platform, his hard-line public security proposals include legalizing mass arrest warrants, permitting police to shoot without warning or prior engagement, building more prisons, allowing minors to be tried as adults, and easing restrictions on gun ownership for “good citizens.”
In an extremely violent, unequal, and racist society such as Brazil, where militarized policing of poor communities of mostly black and brown people is already the norm, it’s unsurprising that conservative, white elites would agree with these ideas. Bolsonaro’s support is strongest among men, whites, evangelicals, the wealthiest, and the most educated.
However, that’s not the whole story. In the most recent polling, 47 percent of self-defined black and brown voters support Bolsonaro. That’s 6 percentage points more than his opponent, the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad, whose traditional base is among the poor. Bolsonaro has 38 percent support among voters who make minimum wage or less ($3,090 per year) and 48 percent among voters who make between $3,090 and $6,180. These numbers are consequential and, at first glance, perplexing: If police violence and abuse is endemic in Brazil, why would the principal victims of this problem support a candidate who wants those same police to be more violent and abusive? My field research as a social scientist offers some insight.
Maycon, 23, is a young black man from a poor neighborhood in Brazil. He has a brother in jail, dreams of being a police officer, and strongly defends implementing the death penalty, which he sees as the population’s defense against what he calls “homie rights,” a play on human rights. An ardent supporter of imprisoned ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party, he would also like to see stricter laws for “bandits,” a central position of far-right candidates like Bolsonaro.
In the conversations I have had with teenagers from the poor outskirts of Brazil’s major cities, Bolsonaro voters follow the same punitive orientation and show solidarity with the police,