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The Killing Consensus

The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime, and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil

Graham Denyer Willis
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    The Killing Consensus
    Book Description:

    We hold many assumptions about police work-that it is the responsibility of the state, or that police officers are given the right to kill in the name of public safety or self-defense. But inThe Killing Consensus, Graham Denyer Willis shows how in São Paulo, Brazil, killing and the arbitration of "normal" killing in the name of social order are actually conducted by two groups-the police and organized crime-both operating according to parallel logics of murder. Based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, Willis's book traces how homicide detectives categorize two types of killing: the first resulting from "resistance" to police arrest (which is often broadly defined) and the second at the hands of a crime "family' known as the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). Death at the hands of police happens regularly, while the PCC's centralized control and strict moral code among criminals has also routinized killing, ironically making the city feel safer for most residents. In a fractured urban security environment, where killing mirrors patterns of inequitable urbanization and historical exclusion along class, gender, and racial lines, Denyer Willis's research finds that the city's cyclical periods of peace and violence can best be understood through an unspoken but mutually observed consensus on the right to kill. This consensus hinges on common notions and street-level practices of who can die, where, how, and by whom, revealing an empirically distinct configuration of authority that Denyer Willis calls sovereignty by consensus.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96113-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    On January 24, 2014, my wife and I welcomed our second child. This baby—a boy—arrived in a private hospital room in Canada, surrounded by a midwife, a midwifery student, an obstetrician, a pediatrician, a medical student, at least three nurses, and his dad. He arrived in a secure and safe world, with exceptional care paid for by a tax regime favorable to those with low income, beginning a life defined in large part by his citizenship, his skin color, his gender, and the capacity of his parents and extended family to “make” money. He is, in many ways,...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxiv)

    • INTRODUCTION. Sovereignty by Consensus
      (pp. 3-19)

      “The Brazilian people can go fuck themselves,” was all Henrique could muster.¹ We had just returned from a murder scene, and this police detective was boiling over. On the steps of the Civil Police headquarters in downtown São Paulo, he watched—but not really—as media vans and camera people shuffled on the street in front of us.

      The murder scene had been a mess. The walls were littered with bullet holes and pools of blood seemed to be everywhere. Beat cops and police detectives were swarming the place looking for answers. But the answers they were looking for were...

    • CHAPTER 1 Surviving São Paulo
      (pp. 20-28)

      It’s a clear and bright Saturday morning in São Paulo. I ride with the windows down in the back seat of a black-and-white Chevy Blazer from the Civil Police’s Homicide Division. In front of me are two plainclothes officers—Brazil’s version of the police detective. Unencumbered by workday traffic, we drive leisurely southbound through the city’s expansive sprawl. We are headed to one of the city’s southernmost urban districts, a hilly working-class place called Jardim Ângela. As we approach our destination, where I had been once many years prior, I am struck again by how Ângela occupies a distinct place...

    • CHAPTER 2 Regulations of Killing
      (pp. 29-46)

      São Paulo is a city in which killing, and the regulation of killing, occurs via parallel and normative logics of violence. These two kinds of killing—homicide and resisting arrest follow by death—are undergirded by a set of urban, spatial, and political conditions under which violent death has become prolific and accepted. On the one hand, the PCC’s spatialized regulation over violence and killing is unmistakable. Homicides carry certain “hallmarks” that are presumed, assumed, or implicitly understood to be an outcome of the regulatory structure of the PCC. What we might consider a “normal” homicide in São Paulo is...


    • CHAPTER 3 Homicide
      (pp. 49-71)

      It is Friday evening. The Homicide Division’s black-and-white Chevy Blazer screams through the streets, parting already tight lanes of traffic with sirens blaring. Drivers pull their cars over lethargically and not a moment before the Blazer zips by with only inches to spare. For thirty-five kilometers east of downtown this continues, like almost every other time. In this case, the team of four Civil Police is coming back from Cidade Tiradentes, the final municipal district on the extreme eastern flank of São Paulo’s urban periphery. There the team left behind what some claim is Latin America’s largest public housing complex,...

    • CHAPTER 4 Resistências
      (pp. 72-92)

      On an afternoon in early 2012, Miguel was roused from his sleep by a noise outside his window. On the other side of the wall he heard a woman and a man in a rushed conversation. “Let go of your purse,” the man said. Miguel grabbed his gun from his bedside table and got up to look out the window. Not fifteen feet away but lower down than he was he saw a man taking the woman’s purse. He shouted for the thief to put his hands up. Then, he shot.

      Miguel was an active but off-duty Military Police officer,...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Killing Consensus
      (pp. 93-108)

      In March 2012, a leaked report from the Intelligence Division of the Civil Police surfaced on prime time television. News anchors from one of the largest television networks laid out the report’s findings: organized crime and the elite unit of the Military Police, ROTA, were in league. Seeking to avoid scrutiny, the PCC was paying members of the ROTA to kill those whom they wanted dead. The ROTA was carrying out these killings under the guise of resistências. The report outlined a scenario in which a number of recent ROTA resistências were hired killings being paid for by the PCC....

    • CHAPTER 6 A Consensus Killed
      (pp. 109-128)

      Just as a consensus can be sustained, it can be torn apart. São Paulo’s periods of relative peace have been blown apart by dramatic urban-scale instances of violence. Even as they last years, those periods of relative peace and stability rest on a false floor that occasionally gives way when the buttresses supporting it crumble. This occurs when one of the two key parties—the state or the PCC—makes a move that is deemed exceptional by the other. Such a move is exceptional when it breaks with the mutually acknowledged boundaries and behaviors that delineate the forms forms of...


    • CHAPTER 7 The Powerful?
      (pp. 131-146)

      By December the explosion in violence had led to more than just police and PCC casualties. The governor, Geraldo Alckmin, had sacked his secretary of public security, as well as the head of the Military Police and the head of the Civil Police. As I was preparing to return home, and having viewed the scenes of dead police and dead citizens multiple times a day, I decided to use my position to add an underheard perspective to the increasing cacophony of voices questioning public security policymakers and demanding change. In December 2012, I published an op-ed in theNew York...

    • CHAPTER 8 Toward an Ideal Subordination?
      (pp. 147-156)

      Is there sense to be made of São Paulo’s senseless violence? If so, the world of homicide detectives can help us get there. But the social and occupational paradigm at the heart of the state’s regulatory mechanisms for life and death is not what we might have thought it was. Where we have supposed that these detectives are the apex of elite police, they are not. Where they should be safe from violence, they are not. If we believed that their colleagues defer to their authority, they do not. If we expected homicide detectives to protect life by punishing those...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 157-168)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-186)
  12. Index
    (pp. 187-192)