Note from BBT: It’s been a minute since I first reported on this story. Well, actually, as it turns out, it’s been more than a minute. It’s actually been a little over two years. Although I haven’t written about the case since that article from July of 2020, the image never left my mind. I think anyone who saw the image was instantly appalled. Not shocked, but appalled. After all, as often as Brazilians see police violence against citizens, I don’t think people were totally shocked. Let’s also remember that this happened a little less than two months after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. Another reason I would say that it wasn’t shocking was because, as is often said, in Brazil, there’s a George Floyd incident almost everyday.
Now that the case has re-surfaced after a verdict on the conduct and actions of the police, it’s the talk of the internet once again. And once again, black Brazilians are shaking their heads with the way justice never seems to be served when it involves police, black Brazilians and violence. Again, you really can’t be surprised by this stuff. After having seen so many videos of police violence, now in an era when everyone has cell phone cameras and social networks where they can share them. Makes me wonder how many brutal beatings were simply relegated to ‘hood legends’ back in the day.
Anyway, let’s get to the facts about this story, because something came out of the report that caught my attention that I wasn’t aware of at the time these images came out. Let’s get to it.
Ashamed to be Brazilian,’ says black woman who had her neck stepped on by acquitted MP
By Jeniffer Mendonça via Ponte
The video showed the victim being beaten on the outskirts of São Paulo in 2020: “carte blanche to barbarism,” says lawyer
Maria*, 53, answers the phone with a downcast voice. “I am sad, indignant, I am ashamed to be Brazilian, I expected justice,” she laments. Two months ago she got a job, still in a trial phase, as a cook after having closed the bar she used to run and moved to another address out of fear. She is the one who appears in the video having her neck stepped on by MP João Paulo Servato, who was acquitted on Tuesday (August 23) by the Military Court of Justice (TJM) of the State of São Paulo.
Servato was accused of serious bodily harm, misrepresentation of identity, failure to comply with laws, regulations or instructions, and violent harassment of the owner of a bar in Parelheiros, in the southern part of the city of São Paulo, in 2020. Military Police Corporal Ricardo de Morais Lopes, who participated in the action, was also acquitted of misrepresentation and failure to obey the law, regulation or instruction.
Images revealed by TV Globo’s Fantástico program, on July 2020, showed that the police officer stepped on the neck of the victim, a black woman, who was surrendered helpless on the ground. She was also punched in the chest and kicked in the leg during the act, in May of that year.
According to the TJM, the result was decided by a five-person sentencing council. Judge José Álvaro Machado Marques, of the 4th Military Audit, and a captain voted for the conviction of the pair, but had their votes defeated by three other captains. The decision document is not yet available and should be read and published on August 30th.
Attorney Felipe Morandini, who represents the victim of the assaults, said he was “incredulous” at the acquittal and will appeal. “The images are clear, and demonstrate the brutal and abusive aggressions suffered,” he criticized. “Much was said yesterday, by both sides, [at the trial] about the message that would be passed on to society and the military police in that process, and, it seems, the message is that the military police officer can do anything. He can assault, he can lie, and he can kill. It is a carte blanche given to barbarism. No one in their right mind can consider normal what we saw in the images, and the impunity of the policemen reduces society’s confidence in the police institution,” she added.
Maria says that she is traumatized, but that she did not receive any psychological help: “I kept doing physiotherapy, but I didn’t get psychological treatment because nothing will erase what I suffered. In spite of this, she categorically states that she will continue to seek justice: “I had to move because I was afraid. But I will go all the way because we can’t remain silent, otherwise the laws won’t change and other people will have to go through this.
The result of the trial was announced on Tuesday night (23) on the social networks of the office responsible for defending the MPs. To the Bridge, lawyer João Carlos Campanini said that the policemen were attacked and “needed to defend themselves.” “For me, justice has given a message: ‘don’t go up against a military police officer, don’t attack him and don’t assault him, he represents the state,'” he said.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office informed that the Military Prosecutor’s Office “deeply regrets that this was the outcome of the first instance decision” and that it will appeal the sentence as soon as it is published.
In the complaint against the officers, prosecutor Giovana Ortolano Guerreiro considered that the MPs, stationed in the 2nd Company of the 50th Metropolitan Battalion, did not follow the approach procedures and based the complaint on the images, which showed the aggressions, and that proved that the pair lied when they went to the police station, claiming that they had been beaten with an iron bar and called “worms”.
“Thus, the accused inserted and caused a false statement to be entered, different from the one that should be written, in order to alter the truth about a legally relevant fact, violating the administration and military service,” Guerreiro wrote.
The case began to be investigated by the Civil Police as a crime of abuse of authority by coercing a prisoner or detainee under serious threat and subjecting him to a vexatious situation not authorized by law, soon after the repercussion of the case, when the victim filed a police report on July 12, 2020, but ended up being referred to the Military Justice 12 days later by order of Judge Adriana Barrea, of the Criminal Forum of Barra Funda of the São Paulo Court of Justice (TJ-SP), accepting the understanding of Police Chief Julio Jesus Encarnação.
According to the Civil Police investigation, to which the Ponte website had access, the bar owner said that she has lived in the neighborhood for 29 years and that she opened her bar around 1 pm. She said that there were two customers, José and Luís (fictitious names) who were in the place and that, at a certain moment, she asked one of them to turn down the volume of the car’s sounds, which was done. Afterwards, she reported that she heard noises outside the establishment and went outside, squeegee in hand, to see what was going on. She claims that she saw José was bloodied and was being beaten by a policeman.
To the Ponte website, at the time, she said that she was not even approached and that she was beaten as soon as she tried to intervene against the aggression against the customer, and that she hit the policeman three times with a squeegee, as the recording also shows. “The guy had already been beaten enough, he was down. I asked the policeman [Ricardo] to stop, then the other [João] threw me twice against the bar’s railing,” she said on the occasion, citing having received three blows before having her neck stepped on. “I was dizzy from the blows, he kicked me. The kick caught my shin and broke my tibia. When I said that, he said ‘you broke my shin’ and stomped on my neck,” reported the woman.
Traumatized, she said at the time that she couldn’t remember exactly how long the MP kept the boot on her neck and that she even fainted. “It was not little, no. He put the whole weight of his body on it. My face rubbed the asphalt while he handcuffed me,” he explained. Afterwards, the policeman put his knee on her neck and her ribs while she was lying on the sidewalk. The bar owner was taken to the emergency room of Hospital Balneário São José and then to the 101st Police Station (Jardim Imbuias), along with the other two customers.
At the police station, the officers gave a completely different version. Ricardo and João claimed that they received a call about a bar that was not in quarantine and as soon as they arrived they said that there were four people drinking in the establishment, but before they could talk to the owner, one of them ran away. When they tried to tell him to get against the wall, the cops claim that Luis said “I’m not going to put my hand on my head, no uncle! Fuck you”, and he even pushed them and resisted being handcuffed.
The pair claimed that at that moment they felt “blows to the head and kicks” and that “an uncontrollable lady appeared, using an iron bar to hit them, accompanied by two other guys, who also hit them with kicks and punches. Ricardo said that he managed to pull the iron bar out of the woman’s hand and while they tried to restrain the others the surrounding population called them “vermin”. He said that the bar owner returned with a squeegee and resumed the verbal offenses and physical aggression against the military police, and that the situation only calmed down when they requested reinforcement. On the occasion, as the bar owner was not released from the hospital, she remained under escort and didn’t issue a statement that day.
About the aggressions committed by the officers, the bar owner said that she became aware of the videos between five and six days after the event and said that she went to the Military Police Internal Procedures Office, but was not heard “under the allegation that they couldn’t get to her immediately due to the Covid-19 pandemic”. She claims that the police officers went back to the neighborhood to search for images.
Both Ricardo and João were summoned to the Civil Police to testify, but both remained silent and said they would speak in court. With this, Delegate Julio Jesus Encarnação understood, based on Law 13.491/2017, sanctioned by then-President Michel Temer and which transfers the investigation of felonious crimes against life committed by military personnel against civilians to the Military court, that it is “the competence of the State Military Justice and related criminal investigative attribution of the internal affairs department of the state militia institution to investigate infractions of special criminal legislation committed by military police, especially crimes of abuse of authority”.
Accused of assaulting police officers
Delegate Isabela Pereira Bahia understood that the woman and her two clients had committed bodily harm against the police officers, as well as disobedience, resisting arrest and contempt, and also requested the arrests of the three. In a custody hearing at the time, Judge Fabrizio Sena Fuzari determined that the bar owner and her two clients should be released from jail, but should comply with precautionary measures (monthly court appearances, not being out of the house between 10 pm and 6 am, not leaving the city without authorization), since the three have no criminal record, have a fixed residence, and work.
This case is still under separate investigation, in the Common Court, and the prosecutor Flavia Lias Sgobi denounced the woman and the two men for bodily harm, contempt, resistance, and violation of sanitary measures (bar open during the pandemic), in October 2021, without making any mention of the images in which the victim appears being assaulted and stepped on.
Note from BBT: So, according to the report that I saw from the Rede Record television network, new images from the incident that occurred before the officer got aggressive with the woman shows a little detail that I wasn’t aware of when this story first broke two years ago. In the video, we see a lot going on. At the beginning of the video, to the left, we see one police officer subdue a man on the ground. In the middle of the street, we see another cop with his gun pointed at a man who removes his shirt, back turned, with his arms extended. Besides all of this confusion, at a certain point of the video, we also see a black woman appear and begin to strike a police soldier with what she acknowledged was a squeegee. We see the woman strike the police officer at least three times during the melee. (In the video, see the 00:15-00:20 mark)
This is a key point. In the video I saw two years ago, all I saw was the moment in which the cop was seen standing on the back of the woman’s neck. So, allow me to say this. I have long argued that Brazilian police regularly use excessive force when approaching citizens. This is absolutely true. They regularly invade poor, mostly black communities spraying bullets with little to no regard as to whom these bullets may strike. Too many cases to mention here, but I’ve said it before, there are enough incidents of police brutality and citizens killed by police that I could dedicate a blog or YouTube channel to this topic alone.
It seems that every day, some report of police brutality or some death occurs due to police action, usually followed by citizens protesting, marching or setting buses on fire. Often times, the police force will also look into the criminal records of any citizen who was killed during the action and use these records in an attempt to justify their death in response to public outcry. This current case seems to fall into this category as well. By releasing the video showing the woman attacking the police, it’s almost as if the police are suggesting that the woman got what she deserved for her interference and aggression against an officer of the law.
I would never accept justification of someone’s death in a violent police action because the person stole a package of cookies or a bag of potato chips. In fact, a person would have to have done something very serious for me to even partially accept such justification. But there is another side to all of this as well. I’ve seen too many instances in which a man or even a woman didn’t comply with police orders which caused police to apply force to the citizen.
There was recently an incident here in the US that was a perfect example of this. A woman refused to sign a citation and was physically forced to the ground and arrested and being repeatedly told to sign the ticket. After refusing to sign the citation, she also refused follow the order of the officer to put her hands behind her back, which led to forceful actions by the police. No one wants to see police take force against anyone, but if she had simply followed orders of a request that was clearly reasonable, the take down would have never happened.
In the case from São Paulo, by assaulting Military Police, the woman opened herself up for violent retaliation. I was disgusted by the end result of seeing a Military Police soldier with his full weight on a woman’s neck, but now, seeing the context in which it happened, I still don’t condone the level of violence inflicted upon her, but this is what happens when you choose to disobey authority. Seriously, if you challenge police, especially physically, you should fully expect to be retaliated against. And with the level of violence and frequency of violence of Brazil’s police, why would you even provoke them? If you’re gonna challenge the police, you better come with a crew, because police are ready and trained to back each other up plus they pack heat.
The point here? Police already treat black populations with excessive force simply due to the color which is stigmatized as a dangerous threat to society. So, knowing that minding your own business doesn’t guarantee the wrath of police, it’s better to heed the words of sociologist Neely Fuller: Don’t fuss, don’t fight and don’t flee.