Protests erupted in Brazil after a Black man died Thursday after he was beaten by two security guards in a supermarket in the city of Porto Alegre in southeastern Brazil. The fatal beating of the man, identified as 40-year-old João Alberto Silveira Freitas, was filmed by a store employee and several bystanders, and footage has circulated across social media.
In South America’s most populous country, Freitas’ death has drawn comparisons to the death of George Floyd.
The incident occurred on Thursday, Nov. 19, at Carrefour supermarket, following a confrontation between Freitas and a store employee who called security.
Footage of the beating shows one of the guards grabbing Freitas by the lower leg and tossing him to the ground face-first.
As Freitas struggled to stand, one of the guards held him down, while the other punched him repeatedly in the head and face. He can be heard crying out during the beating.
Both guards, who are white, have been arrested and are being investigated for homicide. One of the guards is a military police officer who was off-duty at the time of the incident.
Military police officer Giovani Gaspar da Silva, 24, was taken to a military prison, while 30-year-old Magno Braz Borges is being held in a civil police building. It has been discovered that Gaspar da Silva did not have national registry to act as security.
Freitas’ wife told police she and her husband were shopping at the store when he got into an altercation with an employee and made an unspecified gesture. The employee then called security to have Freitas removed from the store.
The local source G1 reported that Freitas had threatened to punch the employee. Braz Borges told his lawyer he was also punched by Freitas, but admitted he may have “went overboard.”
G1 also reported that Freitas “died on the spot,” following the beating. A second video shows the man lying on the ground while someone unsuccessfully attempts to resuscitate him.
Carrefour released a statement following the incident, stating it had terminated the contract with the security provider and is firing the store manager who was on duty at the time of Freitas’ “brutal death.” The French corporation said it will “adopt the appropriate measures to hold the people responsible for this criminal act.”
The beating took place on the eve of Black Consciousness Day, which was Friday, in a nation that remains plauged by police violence against Black people.
Black Consciousness Day is observed each year “to celebrate a regained awareness by the Brazil’s Black community about their great worth and contribution to the country.”
Of the 5,800 people who were killed by police in Brazil last year, 75 percent were Black. About 57 percent of the Brazilian population is considered Black or mixed-race, and Freitas’ killing was met with widespread protests — much of it targeted at Carrefour stores — across the nation that is still coming to terms with its history of racial bias and institutionalized violence against Blacks.
A Carrefour store in Brasilia, the nation’s capital, saw dozens of protestors enter the supermarket chanting “Black lives matter!” on Friday morning, while in Rio de Janeiro, protesters shouted “Carrefour killer!” as a man stretched on his back in a mock death pose over a conveyor belt of a checkout, bringing business in the store to a halt.
Elsewhere in Brasilia on Friday, a throng of protestors descended on the building of a government institution that promotes Black culture to call out its head, Sergio Camargo. Camargo, a Black man, has said there is no structural racism in Brazil and has called the Black Lives Matter movement “lefty garbage.”
This week’s protests come nearly two years after far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro became president of Brazil after being swept into office on a platform that promised increased crackdowns on crime. Under the administration of the former army captain, paramilitary groups, many composed of ex-soldiers, have been practically given a green light to sweep into mostly Black poor communities in Brazil’s big cities and use extra-judicial violence against citizens deemed as criminals.
Bolsonaro did not address Freitas’ death directly on Friday as the nation was roiled by protests, instead tweeting that “the country’s problems ‘go beyond racial issues’ and that the ‘great evil’ of Brazil continues to be ‘moral, social and political corruption,’” as France24 reported.