Protests erupted across several major cities of Brazil after the death of a 19-year-old Black teen at the hands of a supermarket security guard last week. Activists say the unrest has since sparked the beginnings of Brazil’s own Black Lives Matter movement.
“We have to take a position against this to stay alive. It’s a basic issue,” student Lyz Ramos, 19, told The Guardian.
Chaos unfolded outside the Extra supermarket in the upscale Barra da Tijuca community of Rio de Janeiro, where demonstrators gathered to protest the death of Pedro Gonzaga, who died of a heart attack on Thursday after being placed in a “sleep hold” by security guard Davi Amâncio. Local activists also took to the streets in Sao Paulo, Fortaleza and Belo Horizonte as other protests unfolded in Recife on Saturday.
The harrowing incident was captured on bystander video, showing Gonzaga, 19, lying motionless as he’s pinned under the full weight of Amâncio’s body. Onlookers plead for him to let the teen go, with one woman shouting, “he’s suffocating him!” Another witness yelled that young man had turned “purple.”
Fire emergency officials rushed Gonzaga to a nearby hospital, where he twice went into cardiac arrest before dying, Brazilan outlet Extra Online reported.
A spokesman for the supermarket chain claimed the security guard was in the process of thwarting an “attempted theft” when he placed Gonzaga in a “sleep hold.”
“After the individual was restrained by the security guards, the store called the police and the rescue immediately,” the supermarket said in a statement. “The company has already filed an incident report and is cooperating with the authorities to further investigations.”
News of Gonzaga’s death sparked national outcry, and it wasn’t long before the hashtag #VidasNegrasImportam (Black Lives Matter) began circulating on social media. Many Afro-Brazilians have compared the teen’s death to that of Staten Island man Eric Garner, who died after an NYPD officer placed him in a choke hold during his July 2014 arrest. His final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying for the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement.
Now, Brazilian organizers are hoping to launch a similar racial justice campaign in their nation.
— KL Caldwell (@KiaLCaldwell) February 17, 2019
— Marcelo Paixão (@MarceloJPPaixao) February 16, 2019
“There has never been a Black Lives Matter [movement] in Brazil to compare to the United States, but this year I think it will happen more often because the black community is more and more united,” said Rene Silva, one of the organizers behind the Rio protest. “We want to talk about more about black lives matter, [and] for society to understand we can’t stand racism anymore.”
Black activists, rappers and other celebrities expressed frustration over Gonzaga’s death, one of them quoting a lyric from singer Elza Soares that goes, “the cheapest meat at the supermarket is black meat.” Augusto Trota, 19, who was a close friend of the teenager, told The Guardian that Gonzaga was an aspiring rapper, adding, “he was a good person.”
Local media outlets have painted a different story, however, saying Gonzaga was a drug user. According to newspaper O Globo, the teen was being taken by his mother, Dinalva Oliveira, to a rehab clinic when they stopped by the supermarket for lunch. That’s when Gonzaga apparently had a fit of some sort.
“Suddenly he got up and, according to a family friend, had an outbreak, a hallucination,” the newspaper reported. “In testimony to the Homicide Police of the Capital, the security officer (Amâncio) who applied the coup told him that Gonzaga tried to take the gun from him and, although there were other security guards, he said he acted in self-defense.”
Bystanders have denied this account, however, saying security footage of the young man approaching the security guard before falling to the ground, getting up and falling again proves he never tried grabbing for the security guard’s weapon. On the video, Gonzaga’s mother is heard shouting at Amâncio that her son is unarmed.
Black or mixed-race people account for just more than half of Brazil’s population, and data from the annual 2018 annual Violence Atlas shows they’re 71.5 percent of the 64,000 people who die from violence in the country each year. The South American nation is still reeling from the death of Black activist and city councilwoman Marielle Franco, who was murdered in a suspected act of political assassination last year.
“Every day we get more news of more youth dying,” said protester Vanderlea Aguiar. “A big movement is growing every day and we are making more people aware.”
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