Authoritarian Police in Democracy: Contested Security in Latin America


Tuesday, November 24, 2020, 12:00pm to 1:20pm

To watch the recording, click here

Speaker: Yanilda María González, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Discussant: Eduardo Moncada, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University
Moderated by: Steven Levitsky, Professor of Government, Harvard University; Director, DRCLAS

In countries around the world, from the United States to the Philippines to Chile, police forces are at the center of social unrest and debates about democracy and rule of law. This book examines the persistence of authoritarian policing in Latin America to explain why police violence and malfeasance remain pervasive decades after democratization. It also examines the conditions under which reform can occur. Drawing on rich comparative analysis and evidence from Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, the book opens up the 'black box' of police bureaucracies to show how police forces exert power and cultivate relationships with politicians, as well as how social inequality impedes change. González shows that authoritarian policing persists not in spite of democracy but in part because of democratic processes and public demand. When societal preferences over the distribution of security and coercion are fragmented along existing social cleavages, politicians possess few incentives to enact reform.

Yanilda María González is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Her research focuses on policing, state violence, and citizenship in democracy, examining how race, class, and other forms of inequality shape these processes. González’s forthcoming book Authoritarian Police in Democracy: Contested Security in Latin America (Cambridge University Press), studies the persistence of police forces as authoritarian enclaves in otherwise democratic states, demonstrating how ordinary democratic politics in unequal societies can both reproduce authoritarian policing and bring about rare moments of expansive reforms. González received her PhD in Politics and Social Policy from Princeton University. Prior to joining HKS she was an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. González previously worked at a number of human rights organizations in the US and Argentina, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, ANDHES, and Equipo Latinoaméricano de Justicia y Género.

Eduardo Moncada is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. His research agenda focuses broadly on the political economy of criminal violence. His first book, Cities, Business and the Politics of Urban Violence in Latin America (Stanford University Press, 2016), analyzes how the relationships between city mayors, business interests, and criminal organizations shape the ways in which major developing world cities respond to the challenge of urban violence. His current book, Resisting Extortion: Victims, Criminals and Police in Latin America (under contract, Cambridge University Press), analyzes the factors that lead victims to resist criminal extortion using practices outside of the rule of law. Using ethnographic data collected during field research in Colombia, El Salvador and Mexico, he identifies and analyzes strategies of resistance that range from individual-level acts of “everyday resistance” (Scott 1985) to sporadic killings by ad-hoc groups of victims to institutionalized and extra-legal forms of collective vigilantism. He also engages in emerging debates on the opportunities and challenges of subnational research in comparative politics. As part of this research he was the co-editor of Inside Countries: Subnational Research in Comparative Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Presented in collaboration with Weatherhead Center for International Affairs