A deliberate provocation or an unfortunate choice of dress? On social networks, the T-shirt worn by a man who Internet users present as a police officer in service during a mobilisation of “Yellow Vests” in front of the premises of the General Inspectorate of Police (IGPN), in Paris, in any case feeds a lively debate.
“When one of the policemen who protects the IGPN during Steve’s tribute wears a BOPE T-shirt, an assault unit of the Brazilian military police known for shooting on sight, gleefully torturing, and retraining active officers under the dictatorship, it sets the tone”, it says in an indignant Facebook post that went viral. The post is illustrated with photos – taken by Nicolas Mercier, Hors Zone Press – of a logo representing a skull, two pistols, and a knife surrounded by a red circle, clearly visible on the torso of the man in question.
This tee-shirt has the logo of the Special Operations Battalion (Batalhão de Operações Especiais, BOPE), an elite unit of the Brazilian military police with a notorious reputation. And it is indeed worn by a member of the police, as was confirmed by the Paris Police Prefecture to 20 Minutes: “[C] is a plain clothes policeman in service”.
A live video broadcast on Facebook by Radio Tongossa during this mobilisation confirms its presence near the premises of the IGPN on that day. It is visible from the beginning of the footage, near two plainclothes police officers who check the identity of some demonstrators at the exit of the subway.
It is also seen, about 20 minutes later (from 30:38), behind the cordon of policemen created near the entrance of the IGPN – alongside a man already visible next to him at the subway exit. Hands in his pockets, like in the photo that became viral, he observes the protesters as they confront the police.
The bad image of BOPE goes back to far. As early as 2005, Amnesty International mentioned in a report the excesses of this unit created in the 1980s to fight drug trafficking in the favelas – and today composed of 550 members. The NGO cited as an example one of the songs sung by some of its members during a training: “A criminal from a slum / you don’t sweep up with a broom / you sweep them up with grenades / with a rifle and with a machine gun”.
A year earlier, BOPE had already scandalised itself for shooting three youths in a favela during a carnival, before presenting them (wrongly) as drug traffickers. A sign of the morbid fascination of the public for this unit, it was at the heart, in 2007, of the movie Elite Squad – the release of which some police had tried to prevent, as was reported at the time by Courrier international.
Was the policeman allowed to wear such a T-shirt?
If the pattern on the so-called police officer’s T-shirt is not exactly the same as BOPE’s – with a few details – all the clothes with the same logo are sold online as “BOPE”, regardless of the commercial site that markets them.
Do plainclothes officers have the right to wear such clothing or personal badges on their uniform? The Paris police prefecture stresses that “the wearing of such a badge on a T-shirt does not fall within the scope of the prohibitions provided for by Article 645-1 of the Penal Code“, relating to the sanctions for wearing emblems worn by members of a criminal organisation or by a person guilty of crimes against humanity.
However, the question is also the subject of a paragraph in article 113-18 of the General Regulations of Employment of the National Police: “It is prohibited to wear on uniforms any element, symbol, or insignia in connection with belonging to a political, trade union, confessional or associative organisation. This same prohibition applies to civilian dress during service time”.
Can the BOPE logo be considered as a sign of political affiliation? Contacted by 20 Minutes, the Ministry of the Interior did not respond to our requests before the publication of the article. In 2018, however, he explained to CheckNews, concerning a controversial crest – referring as much to the American arms lobby as to some white supremacists – present on the uniform of a CRS officer: “We do not know what the badge refers to, but it should not appear on [his outfit]”.