The death of a black man beaten by white security guards in a supermarket sparked protests across Brazil on Friday as the country celebrated Black Consciousness Day.
A video of Thursday night’s incident in the southern city of Porto Alegre captured on a witness’ mobile phone was broadcast on social networks and Brazilian media.
When the clip went viral, about 1,000 protesters in Sao Paulo marched to a branch of the French-owned supermarket chain Carrefour and stoned the glass window before storming the premises, sweeping and burning goods, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
“Carrefour’s hands are dirty with black blood,” read a banner held by protesters.
Police in Porto Alegre used tear gas and explosives to disperse a protest in front of the supermarket where the death occurred, according to local television.
Protests also broke out in the capital Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, where a crowd picked up a Carrefour supermarket to prevent customers from reaching the checkouts.
“Carrefour may close, it has killed our brother, it will not work!” shouted dozens of young people with banners and masks with the slogan “Black Lives Matter”.
The video on social media shows 40-year-old welder Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas being punched repeatedly in the face and head by a security guard while being held back by another in the supermarket.
A woman stands next to them and films with her mobile phone.
The military police in the state of Rio Grande do Sul said the man had threatened a female worker in the supermarket, who called security.
Silveira Freitas lost consciousness during the attack and died on the spot when doctors tried to revive him.
‘Could not breathe’
A friend of the victim who witnessed the beating told G1 News that when security guards beat him, Silveira Freitas shouted that he could not breathe, a scene reminiscent of George Floyd’s death, a black man suffocating under the lap of a white American police officer in Minneapolis in May last year.
That killing sparked massive protests across the United States.
#USCitizens: Demonstrations against the Carrefour chain of stores have been reported across Brazil after a man was killed by security guards at a Carrefour in Porto Alegre. For your safety, avoid Carrefour locations during protests. Monitor local media for updates. pic.twitter.com/qi1VhbgN8z
– Embaixada EUA Brasil (@EmbaixadaEUA) 21 November 2020
Both supermarket security guards were arrested. One of them was identified as a member of the military police who worked part-time in the supermarket.
In a statement, Carrefour’s Brazilian subsidiary lamented the “brutal death” of Silveira Freitas and promised to take “appropriate action to hold those involved in this criminal case.”
Carrefour said it would sever ties with the security company that hired the guards.
In a series of tweets in Portuguese, the French head of Carrefour, Alexandre Bompard, expressed his condolences and said that the pictures published on social media were “unacceptable.”
In the first place, I would like to express my deepest feelings, following the death of the late João Alberto Silveira Freitas. As represents postadas nas redes sociais são insuportáveis.
– Alexandre Bompard (@bompard) November 20, 2020
“Internal action has been taken immediately by Carrefour Group Brazil, mainly in the matter of security company agreements. These measures are insufficient. My values and the values of Carrefour do not allow racism and violence,” he wrote, demanding a full review of staff training, diversity and intolerance.
The assassination sparked outrage on social media and overshadowed Brazil’s Black Consciousness Day, a holiday in several states.
“From November 20 to the next and every day, the racist structure of this country usually gives us brutality,” social activist Raull Santiago said on Twitter.
“It seems like we have no way out … not even on Black Consciousness Day,” said Brazilian international footballer Richarlison.
“In fact, what conscience? They killed a black man, beaten in front of the cameras. They beat him and filmed. Decency and shame have been lost to violence and hatred,” the Everton player said on Twitter.
In Brazil, the last country in America to abolish slavery – in 1888 – about 55 percent of the population of 212 million identify as black or mixed race.
Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro had not commented on the death late Friday, but tweeted that the country’s problems “go beyond racial issues” and that “the great evil” in Brazil continues to be “moral, social and political corruption.”
Brazil has a diverse culture, unique between nations. We are a poor people. Whites, Negroes, Pardons and Indians compose the body and spirit of a rich and marvelous people. In a single Brazilian family, we can contemplate a greater diversity than integral lands.
– Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) November 21, 2020
“As president, I’m color blind: everyone has the same color. There is no color [of skin] better than the others. There are good and bad men, “Bolsonaro added.
Bolsonaro’s Vice President Hamilton Mourao called the assassination “regrettable.”
Mourao said it was the work of “a security agent who was not prepared for the work” and denied that it was a racist act.
“For me, there is no racism in Brazil. It is something they want to import here to Brazil. It does not exist here,” Mourao said.
Philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, one of the most influential voices in the fight against racism in Brazil, told AFP that “the naturalization and justification of black people’s deaths as a result of violence exists in political, legal, business and media discourses.”