For a socialist, pro-drug-legalization, Hare Krishna police chief in the polarized and hardly ever reasonable Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, Orlando Zaccone seems strangely at ease. As our lunch turns into an errand-running mission through downtown Rio de Janeiro to help stage the Second National Congress of Anti-Fascism Police Officers, he is open and patient in spilling his life story. Being prominent in the media, he reveals, makes him feel safer to speak up.
“I believe the fear turned bigger after Marielle Franco’s murder [in 2018]. Left-wing activists are afraid to be the next target,” says the 55-year-old, who was born and raised in Rio.
It’s not just activists. Even as Rio’s police gunned down a record five people per day in 2019, they face growing threats. Across Brazil in 2018, 343 police officers were killed (nearly one per day), 87 in the line of duty. Another 104 officers died by suicide. Their situation helped inspire Zaccone to co-found Policiais Antifascismo (Anti-Fascism Police Officers). The progressive movement of around 400 officers fights for the demilitarization of public security, more advancement opportunities for military police and the end of the war on drugs.
“Most of Brazil’s cops are the military police, but they have no right to strike, to union representation, to run for political offices,” Zaccone says. His movement has drawn supporters from across 10 states, and counts prominent backers like artist Caetano Veloso and the Order of Attorneys of Brazil, the country’s bar association.[…]