Brazilians are reacting in shock and anger after a young man was suffocated to death by a security guard in a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro on February 14. When a video filmed by a bystander emerged, it only added fuel to the fire and protests were organised in several different cities. On social media, activists have started using the hashtag #VidasNegrasImportam ("Black Lives Matter”) and encouraging people to share their experiences of racism in Brazil.
The video, which is about two minutes long, shows a security guard named Davi Ricardo Amâncio using his entire body to pin 19-year-old Pedro Henrique Gonzaga to the ground. Amâncio is holding onto Gonzaga’s neck.
Bystanders appear concerned for Gonzaga, who cannot move, and start shouting at the security guard.
“He's fainted!” one person cries. Others chime in, “His hand is purple!” and “He’s unconscious!”
But the security guard doesn’t release the teenager and, instead, says several times, “You’re lying!”
Warning: the following images are shocking
The videos were filmed late morning on Thursday, February 14. Shortly thereafter, Gonzaga was released and taken to hospital, where he died later that afternoon, due to respiratory failure, according to emergency services.
The store where Gonzaga was fatally assaulted said in a statement that the teenager had tried to steal Amâncio’s weapon. Local media outlets managed to get hold of footage from the surveillance cameras to shed some light on what happened before the deadly incident.
The videos show Gonzaga running towards Amâncio. He then stops and talks with the guard and another store employee. A woman comes towards them and, suddenly, for unclear reasons, Gonzaga falls. The two other men pick him up, then he falls again. The rest of the incident doesn’t appear in the footage.
According to police, Amâncio "overstepped the boundaries of self-defence". And, despite the fact that Amâncio was arrested immediately after the incident, he was released the same day after paying bail.
Gonzaga’s mother, who witnessed the assault, disputed Amâncio’s version of events and said that her son wasn’t trying to take the guard’s weapon.
More than a few people on Twitter also disputed Amâncio’s story.
"The surveillance camera footage proves that he didn’t have any intention of taking the guard’s weapon,” wrote one Brazilian YouTuber (below).
"Vidas Negras Importam": a slogan inspired by #BlackLivesMatter
In the days following Gonzaga’s death, protests were organised in cities across Brazil to denounce racist crimes against black Brazilians. Protesters also called on customers to boycott the store that employed Amâncio.
During the demonstrations, protesters chanted "Vidas negras importam", a slogan inspired by Black Lives Matter, a hashtag and movement started in the United States to protest police violence against African-Americans.
Many activists drew parallels between Gonzaga’s death and the death of Eric Garner, a black man who was killed by policemen in New York in 2014. During his arrest, Garner was pinned down on the ground in a chokehold. He said, several times, that he wasn’t able to breathe but by the time the police let him go, it was too late.
>> Read on The Observers: Indignation after New Yorker dies following police chokehold
The hashtag #VidasNegrasImportam also spread across social media. Several well-known Brazilians posted about their own experiences of racism using this hashtag, according to Global Voices.
Fioti, a rapper and entrepreneur, tweeted about the first time he was stopped by the police. He was only 11 years old and he “thought he was going to die”.
Translated from Portuguese: "The first time that I was stopped by the police, I was 11 years old. I was going to the mall with my brother; we were headed to the cinema. We were near the bus stop when the police, in front of everyone, made us lift up our T-shirts and pointed a gun at us. I thought that I was going to die and that was just the first [time]."
Brazilian rapper MC Carol posted about her first day at school, when she was locked in the bathroom by white classmates.
Translation from Portuguese: "That was one of my first experiences with racism… It was my first day of school. On the first day, I was shut in the bathroom by little white girls! [I’ve already posted about this incident and people asked me how I could remember something that happened when I was so small. It must be because when something really hurts, it leaves a scar]."
Brazilian activist Ale Santos posted that "Brazilian racism" creates "the right conditions for violence".
Translation: "Brazilian racism is the perfect crime: it has created the perfect conditions for violence and, instead of healing society, it prefers to exterminate young people who look like the racist idea of a delinquent. It’s a true genocide, demonstrated by statistics.”
A second video emerges of violence towards a black man
A few days later, on February 25, a second video showing police violence towards a black man was posted online. Crispim Terral, a 35-year-old black Brazilian entrepreneur, posted the seven-minute video, which he says shows him being assaulted by police in a bank in the city of Salvador de Bahia.
In his post, Terral says that the incident took place on February 19. He had gone to the bank for the eighth time to try and figure out a problem with bounced cheques. He had been waiting for five hours, but the bank employee kept ignoring Terral and prioritising other customers. Terral tried to speak to the branch manager, insisting that he needed to see someone. Instead, the branch manager called the police to get Terral to leave.
"It’s the 21st century and I was treated brutally. I was clearly a victim of racial prejudice,” Crispim wrote.
Terral’s 15-year-old daughter, who was at the bank with him that day, filmed what happened after the police arrived. Her video shows a police officer knocking her father to the ground and putting him in a chokehold. After the video was posted online, authorities opened an investigation into the incident.
Screengrab of Terral’s Facebook post.
"Many Brazilians still think that racism doesn’t exist"
Activists say that these aren’t isolated instances but, instead, show the deep-seated racism within Brazilian society.
Rene Silva grew up in Complexo do Alemão, a favela in Rio de Janeiro where police violence is commonplace. In 2005, he launched a newspaper called Voz das Comunidades ('Community Voice') to give voice to people living in the favelas. He says these shocking videos have given momentum to Brazil’s anti-racist movement.
Racism is an everyday occurrence. Every day, a young black man is killed or assaulted by the police. It’s a daily struggle because, so often, it comes down to the word of the young man versus the police. But videos are proof of the violence that we are fighting against. It’s also easier to mobilise other activists and organise protests. The fact that these incidents happened in a bank and a supermarket add to the outrage.
This post includes a copy of the video showing Terral being assaulted. Translation (from Portuguese): "Racism and physical violence. Crispim Terral, aged 34, was the victim of racism and violence in a branch of a Caixa de Salvador. Terral was pinned to the ground while his 15-year-old daughter, who was witness to the entire incident, filmed the scene."
Our hashtag is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. I think the movement is starting to grow in Brazil, which is new. Many Brazilians think that racism no longer exists and they don’t believe us when we speak out. The media doesn’t cover this issue much so I think a segment of the population doesn’t realise that it is an issue.
According to a 2016 report by the NGO Human Rights Watch, police in Rio de Janeiro killed more than 8,000 people between 2005 and 2015. Three quarters of those who died were black men. The police say police were acting in self-defence in most of these killings. According to the NGO, Rio’s police do face real threats from armed gangs and that "many of these killings are likely the result of the legitimate use of force". However, they claimed many other instances of police violence could be considered extrajudicial killings.
According to a study based on homicide numbers from the first part of 2017, a young black man is killed every 23 minutes in Brazil. Young black men are 2.8 times more likely to be killed than young white men.
This article was written by Maëva Poulet.