Latin American Studies Association, Brazil Section Award citation for The Killing Consensus
2014 Best Dissertation
"The committee, composed of John French (Duke), Joseph Marques (King's, London) , and Jerry Davila (Illinois- Urbana Champaign), found this to be a fascinating piece of research and one that pushes far beyond the typical human rights discourse--reminding us that moral and ethical choices are not always obvious and uncomplicated. The reality that a strong gang can, in its own way, bring peace to an area is by no means surprising (and no apologias are offered here); but the ways in which this policing function--and its logic--mirrors that of the state's agents and that in many ways they are interdependent in their search for a definition of legitimate killing. We liked many of the fascinating small observations about how what look like good reforms (after 2012) could actually work within the bureaucratic structures and internal institutional weaknesses. And the idea of encouraging voice by the individual police--not all of whom are violent or oppressive--is an important one rather than more heated denunciations of state violence. Overall, this is a work that seems to be not just about police and organized crime, but is more broadly a dissertation that very definitively and peculiarly Brazilian."
The Killing Consensus: Police, Organized Crime and the Regulation of Life and Death in Urban Brazil
University of California Press, 2015
We hold many assumptions about police work — that it be solely the responsibility of the state, or that only police officers be given the right to kill in the name of public safety or self defense. But in The Killing Consensus, Graham Denyer Willis shows how in Sao Paulo, Brazil, killing and the arbitration of “normal” killing in the name of social order is actually conducted by two groups— the police and organized crime — both operating by parallel logics of murder. Based on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, Denyer Willis traces how homicide detectives routinely categorize two types of killing: the first resulting from “resistance” to police arrest -often broadly defined-, 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 (the overall number of homicides is down by as much as 80% in some places). Via the arbitrations, street level experiences and sense making of death by homicide detectives, this book examines how a regulation of killing has emerged in Sao Paulo among these two groups. In a fractured urban security environment like that of many other cities in the global south, where killing mirrors patterns of inequitable urbanization and historical exclusion on class, gender and racial lines, Denyer Willis' grounded research finds that the city’s cyclical periods of relative peace and dizzying 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, raising acute questions about whether sovereign power can be exercised by consensus.