Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Government and International Affairs

Major Professor

Bernd Reiter


Brazil, Inequality, Police, Poverty, Racism, Violence


This thesis looks at the nature of violence with its endemic, and increasingly epidemic, presence in Brazil. I analyze the structure of the justice system, police force, and the many governmental security programs in order to better explain why Brazil is so violent and its government has been unable to control this violence. Living under violent conditions, Brazil has become a society where the efficient functioning of the public sphere has been undermined. This public space, shared by citizens, is what many academics believe to be a critical component of a robust and functioning democracy. In Brazil, it is shown, this space is often absent as people are scared away by the violence. Furthermore, the question of whether or not violence is a threat to Brazil's democratic system is addressed.

This thesis then analyzes Brazil's historical legacy, which is largely built upon a patrimonial society that lends continuity to the historic inequalities of Brazilian society. These inequalities are inherent in the many examples of racism that are seen in modern Brazil, from both the public and private spheres. The middle and upper classes are often supportive of controlling the poor by legally questionable and often violent methods. The studies I use in this thesis show that elites are more likely to consistently and openly support police brutality. This violence is practiced with impunity at the expense of equally applied justice for all citizens. As such, the middle and upper classes turn the other way when the police raid the favelas. They show this same behavior when an alarmingly high percentage of people are killed while in police detention for only minor crimes. Only through real structural changes can Brazil have both a vibrant democracy a security regime that is effective both publically and privately. Brazil needs to reform its court systems, policing strategy, and judicial system in order to ensure a more equitable society. Brazil should strive to construct a democracy where the public-sphere functions robustly. This study looks at different branches of the Brazilian government and has revealed abuses and bias that has had the effect of undermining public trust in these same institutions. This has had the effect of undermining the public trust to the point that elite Brazilians feel that the state is their private domain. Concomitantly, the poor and marginalized perceive the state as instrumental to their exploitation.