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ABSTRACT

In Brazilian cities, perhaps the most disturbing criminal activity is the violence perpetrated by police officers themselves. This article is an invitation and a provocation to reconsider social scientific thinking about police violence in Brazil. Illustrated by a court decision from a Northeastern city, in which a black man won a case against the state for being falsely arrested and abused by a black police officer on the grounds of racism, this article investigates three paradoxes: Brazilians fear both crime and the police; black police beat black civilians; and government officials disavow responsibility by stigmatizing the police on racial grounds. It then proposes an alternative reading of these paradoxes that opens the possibility for rethinking police reform and argues that democratization in Brazil is deeply intertwined with the future of its darkest-skinned citizens.