Fatal beating of Black man by supermarket security guards sparks, fury protests in Brazil

A Black man died after being beaten by supermarket security guards in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre on the eve of Friday’s Black Consciousness Day observations, sparking outrage as videos of the incident circulated on social media.

One short video showed one guard restraining Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas just outside the doors of a Carrefour supermarket while the other pummeled him with repeated blows to the face. A store employee stood to the side filming. Other video clips, shot afterward, showed a guard kneeling on Freitas’ back.

Dozens of protesters entered a Carrefour in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, on Friday morning, chanting “Black lives matter!” One held a sign reading: “Don’t shop at Carrefour. You could die.”

Inside another Carrefour in Rio de Janeiro, protesters shouted “Carrefour Killer!” as a Black man lay still atop the conveyor belt of a checkout.

Carrefour released a statement lamenting Freitas’ “brutal death,” and said it will “adopt the appropriate measures to hold the people responsible for this criminal act.”

It also said it will end its contract with the security company, fire the store manager who was on duty and close the store out of respect for the victim.

The men who beat Freitas have been detained and are being investigated for homicide due to the victim’s asphyxiation and his inability to defend himself, said Nadine Anflor, the civil police chief for the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where Porto Alegre is the capital.

One of the men was a temporary military police officer who was off-duty, said Rodrigo Mohr, head of the state’s military police.

A protester carries a sign that shows a screenshot from a video of Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas being beaten by security guards. The sign also reads, ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘We demand justice for Beto.’ (Diego Vara/Reuters)

Anflor and Mohr spoke on a video posted to Twitter by Gov. Eduardo Leite, who highlighted recent state policies enacted to combat racial intolerance.

“Unfortunately, on this day in which we should be celebrating those public policies, we come across scenes that leaves us all indignant due to the excessive violence that caused the death of a Black citizen at the supermarket,” he said.

Black Consciousness Day is observed as a holiday in many parts of Brazil.

In Rio on Friday, a group of people participated in a celebration with Afro-Brazilian dance and music in the working-class Santa Marta favela. Members of a local samba school performed a ritualistic “washing” of the steps leading up into the hillside neighborhood.

Black and mixed-race people account for about 57 per cent of Brazil’s population but constitute 74 per cent of victims of lethal violence, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, a nongovernmental organization. The percentage is even higher, 79 per cent, for those killed by police.

Local online news site G1 reported that last night’s incident at the Carrefour in Porto Alegre followed a confrontation between Freitas and a supermarket employee, who then called security. Both guards were white, G1 reported.

‘Racism doesn’t exist in Brazil,’ says vice-president

After the death of George Floyd earlier this year in the U.S., Black Lives Matter protests drew hundreds of thousands to the streets around the world.

The protests resonated in Brazil, too, where demonstrators turned out to demand justice for a 14-year-old boy killed by police in Rio de Janeiro.

Protesters gather outside a Carrefour supermarket in Brasilia on Friday. (Eraldo Peres/The Associated Press)

Protesters in Brasilia also gathered Friday outside a governmental institution that promotes Black culture to denounce its chief, Sergio Camargo.

Camargo, who is Black, has denied the existence of structural racism in Brazilian society and called the Black Lives Matter movement “lefty garbage.”

Speaking to reporters, Vice-President Hamilton Mourao lamented the incident at Carrefour, but denied that it reflected racism.

“Racism doesn’t exist in Brazil. That is something they want to import here,” Mourao said. “I lived in the United States. There is racism there.”

Demonstrators march in Sao Paulo Friday after the beating death of a Black man at a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre on the eve of Black Consciousness Day, which is observed as a holiday in many parts of Brazil. (Amanda Perobelli/Reuters)

The French supermarket chain has found itself in controversy before in Brazil.

In August, a man died in a Carrefour in the northeastern city of Recife; his body was covered by umbrellas and the supermarket continued operating for several hours.

Carrefour apologized in a statement and said it was changing its protocols to close locations when deaths occur.

In 2018, a security guard at a Carrefour in Sao Paulo state beat a stray dog to death with a metal bar. The dog had been well known in the area, and Carrefour agreed to pay 1 million reais ($243,391 Cdn) to a fund for the protection of animals.

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