On July 12, a Brazilian TV channel broadcast mobile phone videos showing a police officer holding a Black woman on the ground by stepping on her neck. The video, which was filmed in São Paulo in May but was just released, has sparked widespread outrage across Brazil, where police violence is common. 

The video shows a police officer pinning a woman to the ground by pressing his foot on her neck. He then lifts up his other foot, placing all his weight on the victim’s neck as she lies face down. 

This incident took place on May 30 in Parelheiros, which is a working class neighbourhood in the south of São Paulo. The mobile phone footage wasn’t made public until July 12, when it was broadcast on Fantastico, a popular news programme on Brazilian network TV Globo.

"The more I struggled, the more he pushed on my neck,” explained the 51-year-old victim, who did not show her face in the programme.


On the day of the violent arrest, the woman, who runs a small bar, had opened her establishment for business, even though bars and restaurants across the city had been ordered to shut because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

"Customers came, took their drinks and left,” she said. The TV programme reported that neighbours eventually called the police when a customer parked in front of the bar, blaring loud music.

According to the police, when officers arrived on the scene, they saw several customers gathered in front of the bar, drinking alcohol. They arrested one man, a friend of the owner. She said on Fantastico that she intervened when she saw the officers assaulting him. Footage filmed in front of the bar shows a police officer pinning a man to the sidewalk as the owner stands nearby. 

Multiple cell phone videos filmed by bystanders and broadcast on Fantastico show another officer, several metres away, pointing a gun at another man, who is standing in the middle of the street. The man peels off his T-shirt and raises his arms in the air, as if to surrender. The police officer then joins his fellow officer on the sidewalk, pushing the owner of the bar away from the man pinned to the ground.

One of the two police officers on the scene points his gun at a young man. (Screengrabs from one of the videos obtained by TV Globo.)

One officer holds a man on the ground, while the second officer pushes the bar owner away. (Screengrab of one of the videos obtained by TV Globo.)

"I told him [the officer] to stop. He pushed me against the door of the bar and punched me three times. He made me fall and he broke my leg,” she recounted on the programme.

TV Globo says that the videos it had access to don’t show this part of the encounter. They also don’t have footage of the officers pinning the woman on the ground a second time, which she says happened.  

"Then, he put one knee on my neck and another on my side. I lost consciousness four times,” she said on the programme. 

Reports published in the Brazilian press said that the woman was admitted to Grajaú Hospital in São Paulo, where she was diagnosed with a leg fracture. For their part, the police claim that they were attacked and had to act to subdue the bar owner and the other men present at the scene. In their police report, they say that the woman threatened them with an iron bar. 

On Sunday, the state government of São Paulo announced that the policemen involved in the incident had been suspended and that an investigation had been opened.  

"The incident shown by the Fantastico programme is repugnant. The violent and unnecessary behaviour of certain police officers is unacceptable," tweeted Governor João Doria.
 
 
After several other incidents of police violence in São Paulo, the governor announced in June that he was setting up a training programme to help deter future abuses and would require military police to wear body cameras.

An echo of the killing of George Floyd in the US
 
Many people took to social media to express shock and outrage over the video, with many comparing it to the police killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis in the United States. Some posts used the hashtag #VidasNegrasImportam, inspired by the American movement Black Lives Matter.
 
Erica Hilton, a representative from the state of São Paulo, tweeted: "It’s as if the police here, instead of being shocked like the rest of the world by what happened to George Floyd in the United States, decided to imitate the barbarism.” She added that these videos are proof of the racism and problematic ideology within the São Paulo government.
 
 
Translation: "Now, read this: a 51-year-old Black woman was *suffocated during an arrest* in the same way as George Floyd. It’s happening here, in Brazil, and you aren’t doing anything."
 
 
Journalist and activist Raull Santiago also compared this incident to George Floyd’s killing and added: “Thankfully, she didn’t die in this attempted homicide.” 

During an interview with 'Encontro', another programme on Globo, broadcast on July 14, the bar owner herself drew a parallel with George Floyd.

"I thought I was going to die like him,” she said.

In June, when protests against police violence and racism broke out across the globe after the killing of George Floyd, Brazilian protesters spilled into the streets to protest against one of the most deadly police forces in the world. According to French radio station RFI, between 2015 and 2019, an estimated 25,000 people were killed by police in Brazil –  most of them Black, young, poor and, most often, male.