Note from BBT: The murder of João Alberto Silveira Freitas by security forces at a Carrefour supercenter on November 19th, the night before the national Day of Black Consciousness in Brazil, cannot be labeled as simply an isolated incident as if often portrayed by companies involved in such controversies. In fact, supercenters, stores, supermarkets, banks and places of business have a history of discriminatory behavior against black customers.
The fact is, as with other topics that I periodically cover this blog, I don’t report anywhere near how often such incidents take place in Brazil. As I often say about the murder of black Brazilians by agents of the Military Police, if I decided to do so, I could also create an entire blog that discussed only the harassment that black Brazilians ensure when simply walking around or looking at products inside of these establishments.
Whether it’s the recognition that they are being followed around by security, are actually stopped and accused of theft, or in the worst case scenario, are approached, accused, stopped and taken in for questioning or in the worst case scenario, assaulted, such incidents are very common if you happen to be a black or brown Brazilian. It doesn’t even matter if one happens to be a child, teenager, man or woman, it’s not an exaggeration to say that if a person enters a place of business in Brazil, their skin color is enough to warrant suspicion.
I won’t go into detail of every single event I’ve ever been aware of or that make headlines, but when I first read about tragic murder of João Alberto, now two weeks ago, all I could do was shake my head and say to myself, “Again?” Below is a short list of incidents that makes one wonder if black/brown Brazilians themselves need security to protect them when they enter places of business.
On the eve of Black Consciousness Day, another black man is killed in a supermarket
After an argument with a cashier, he was taken to the parking lot by a white security guard and a temporary military policeman, immobilized with his knee on his neck and beaten to death. The two were caught in the act for murder with the intention of killing. The supermarket closed the store and claims to have terminated its contract with the security company
By Leonardo Sakamoto, with additional information by Marques Travae
So that we don’t forget why on a Black Consciousness Day, celebrated on November 20th, João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a black man, 40 years old, was murdered in a unit of the Carrefour supermarket, in the north zone of Porto Alegre, on Thursday, November 19.
After an argument with a cashier, he was taken to the parking lot by a white security guard and temporary military policeman. Videos show him being knocked down, immobilized with the attacker’s knee on his neck, and beaten to death. The two were caught in the act for murder with the intention of killing. The supermarket closed the store and claims to have terminated its contract with the security company.
If you have the impression that this scene has happened before, you’re correct. With some variations, it repeats, and repeats, and repeats, already part of the landscape of a country defined by racism at all levels of its social relations. The difference is that, in recent years, the aggressions, which have always occurred, can be watched by millions on the screens of their cell phones. This helps to dilute the violent lie of “there is no racism” while making many recognize themselves in “something similar has already happened to me”.
It’s not the first time that a black person has been killed or tortured by security guards at a supermarket. And considering that Brazil is a foreman who beats and kills blacks in commercial establishments, but also in police stations and peripheries, and seems to appreciate its work, it will not be the last time.
Let’s take a look back at some recent, similar events. On February 14 of last year, Pedro Henrique de Oliveira Gonzaga, 19, was killed by a security guard at the Extra supermarket, of Grupo Pão de Açúcar, in the Barra da Tijuca region of Rio de Janeiro. When “restraining” the young black man, a security guard put him in a headlock and threw his weight on him. In the video, which circulated on social media, witnesses warned that Pedro was “suffocating” and turning “purple”, but the torture session continued. Going into cardiopulmonary arrest, he was rescued by firefighters and didn’t survive. The boy’s mother witnessed the scene. She asked the security guard to stop.
That resembles another story. In July 2019, a 17-year-old black man, a collector of recyclable materials, was stripped naked, gagged and whipped by two foremen after attempting to steal chocolate bars from a unit of the Ricoy supermarket on the outskirts of São Paulo. The whip is pure historical cynicism. The market said it repudiated the fact and that the security guards were from an outsourced company – as always.
The case went viral via social media after the executioners themselves recorded images of the torture session, copying the US military during torture sessions at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. At that time, American “good citizens” were thrilled by the scenes. Here, Brazilian “good citizens” didn’t settle for less.
That resembles another story. In August 2009, Januário Alves de Santana was accused of stealing a car, also at a Carrefour store in Osasco (SP) in August 2009. So he was subjected to a torture session of about 20 minutes. “What were you doing inside the EcoSport, thief?”, they asked, while five people kicked, punched, butted him in the head, in the mouth. The car was his own. In the head of the security guards at the supermarket, a black man couldn’t have a cool, white car. If Carrefour had learned something from 2009, history would not have repeated itself with a worse outcome in 2020.
That resembles another story. In August this year, delivery man Matheus Fernandes went to exchange the watch he had bought for his father at the Renner store, at Shopping Ilha Plaza, in Rio de Janeiro. Picked up at the scene by two men, he was accused of stealing the goods, immobilized on the emergency stairs and assaulted. A pistol was pointed at him and the worst didn’t happen because a friend called other people. Everything was recorded.
Matheus was proud that he had bought the gift with his own money. “Every day I go to the mall to work. Now, just because I’m black, can’t I go there to have fun?”, he asked.
The stories could be different if the skin color was also. But we prefer to say no, really just to sleep more peacefully at night, denying the prejudice that permeates us from the epidermis to the bones. And it would be great for the conscience of Brazilians if only places where this type of murder took place were supermarkets, but they occur in any public space, by the hands of the State, companies, the population.
In July 2015, a 29-year-old black man was lynched by residents of Jardim São Cristóvão, in São Luís, Maranhão. According to the Civil Police, he had tried to rob a bar when he was apprehended, tied naked to a pole and beaten to death with punches, kicks, stones and bottles. The guy could have been turned over to the police to be properly prosecuted and pay for his crime. But the pelourinho, (whipping post) which sings loudly in the soul of Brazilians, spoke louder.
Just for purposes of clarity, we should also remember that supermarkets aren’t the only places where such violent aggressions against black/brown Brazilians take place. For example, in early 2017, we have the death of 13-year old João Victor at a Habib’s restaurant in São Paulo’s north zone. Reports tell us that the youngster had been begging for money from the restaurant’s customers. There were conflicting reports as to what caused Victor’s death, but security cameras show the teen being dragged by a security agent and a witness confirmed seeing the same security agent strike the youngster in the head causing his collapse.
Besides supermarkets and restaurants, black Brazilians have long complained of the discriminatory treatment they receive in banks, with an incident happening in early 2019 perhaps best exemplifying these complaints. At a Caixa Econômica Federal bank location in Salvador, Bahia, black businessman Crispim Terral was attacked and put in a headlock by bank security after simply requesting assistance from a manager over some returned checks. The assault on Terral happened only five days after the murder of Pedro Gonzaga by similar security tactics in an Extra store in Rio.
Similar incidents that happen in the US often become the topic of wordlwide news. Watching João Alberto’s last moments was a reminder of the murder of George Floyd, a black man who, in May this year, was strangled to death by a white policeman who knelt on his neck during a stop for allegedly using a fake bill at a supermarket in Minneapolis, United States. This sparked anti-racist protests across the country.
In the same way that Pedro Henrique’s death resembles that of Eric Garner, a black man who was selling cigarettes irregularly in New York, by white police officers, on July 17, 2014. One of them put Eric in an armlock, threw him to the ground and “restrained” him with troops. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” shouted Eric’s despair as he was asphyxiated.
Without demerit for other social and political agendas, that would be more than enough reason to occupy the country’s streets in protest. But, as I said here, the death and torture of black people by the hands of the state or private initiative is not worth the scratch left on pots and pans after a night of pounding them in protest. This racism is not an accident, but part of a project that is violent towards the black and poor population in the name of maintaining our privileges.
It is clear that there are no direct orders to gun down all blacks and poor people given by the command of the government or by private companies. But it wouldn’t need to be. We teach security agents in large cities to hate to make sure everything stays as it is.
Hence, when teachers decide to discuss, in the classroom, the reason why young blacks are the main victims among thousands of violent deaths each year, according to data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum, defenders of a School With No Intelligence threaten to sue and bite, saying that this is being “ideological”.
In the opinion of a considerable part, there is no racism in Brazil. Just “coincidence” and “bad luck”. There is also no genocide of poor and black youths from the peripheries at the hands of the police, trafficking, the militia. “They are the ones in the wrong place at the wrong time, because the ‘good men’ follow the law and nothing happens to them.”
How does a country want to be decent if a chocolate bar is worth more than dignity? How do people support the beating and death scenes in supermarkets on social media and celebrate police actions that kill young people in the suburbs, and then fill their mouths to talk about democracy? How can we want to build a future if most of us don’t even remember Ágatha, João Pedro and Marcos Vinícius, whose deaths have shamed us in the recent past?
The only certainty is that torture and the death of black people will continue to be allowed in the private sector in a country that has made the execution of blacks by public officials a daily task.
Source: Semana On