Street protests erupted across Brazil after two security guards — one an off-duty military cop — beat to death Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas, a 40-year-old black man, outside a Carrefour supermarket in the southern city of Porto Alegre Nov. 19.
A cellphone video that circulated widely in the media shows one guard pinning him to the ground in the parking lot, while the other repeatedly punches Freitas, a welder, in the head. He died of asphyxiation.
The killing took place on the eve of Brazil’s Black Consciousness Day, a national holiday.
Milena Borges Alves, Freitas’ live-in girlfriend, told the media that he was shopping with her at Carrefour, a French-owned supermarket chain, and he got into an argument with a cashier. Guards then escorted him out of the store. As they entered the parking lot area, videocam footage shows Freitas punching one of the guards. The guards then killed him in front of shoppers, employees and bystanders, some of whom tried to intervene to stop it.
“I just want justice,” Borges Alves told the media. “That’s all. I just want them to pay for what they did to him.” She said they had plans to marry in a few days.
Over 2,000 people rallied Nov. 20 by the Carrefour store where he was beaten. Actions spread to other Carrefour stores around the country, including in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. At a protest by a supermarket in the northeastern city of Recife, military police used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators.
Brazil has the largest population of black people outside Africa, with over half of the country’s 212 million people identifying themselves as black or of mixed race. Some 5 million Africans were taken to Brazil in the slave trade — over 10 times the number brought to North America. Slavery wasn’t abolished until 1888.
Many Brazilians who had considered themselves to be “pardo” — of mixed race — increasingly see themselves as black. There were protests across Brazil after U.S. cops killed George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year.
Over 75% of those killed by the government’s police forces last year were black.
In response to the spreading protests, the government arrested both guards Nov. 20. They face possible homicide charges. In addition, a public defender in southern Brazil filed a lawsuit against Carrefour for $37.6 million in damages for its responsibility in the killing of Freitas on its property.