A racist murder of young Black man João Alberto Silveira Freitas by security guards in Brazil on Nov. 19 has sparked mass protests across that country, and internationally, including in New York City’s Union Square. The murder happened right before National Black Awareness Day in Brazil (Nov. 20), and also resonates deeply with the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S.
Young father beaten to death at supermarket, boycott called
On Nov. 19, João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a young Black father and husband, headed out with his wife, Milena Borgos Alves, to run a typical shopping errand. They had planned to pick up a few basic necessities from the French supermarket chain, Carrefour. They went to the one in Porto Alegre, a majority white community.
Upon checking out, an argument ensued with the cashier. Security escorted João Alberto to the exit, where they beat him, repeatedly pummeling him in the head as they tried to trip him onto the ground.
A passerby recorded the brutality in a video, which has now been circulated widely online. In the video, a cashier is seen trying to stop the passerby from filming, while João Alberto gasped for his life, laying in his own blood. He could be heard moaning and crying for mercy.
One of two men pressed all his body weight with his knee onto João Alberto’s neck, triggering reminders of George Floyd, whose murder sparked anti-racist protests across the U.S. from May through July this year. Minutes later, João Alberto lay dead.
Altogether, 11 off-duty police officers participated in this killing while helpless passers by watched in horror. Surveillance cameras captured officers attempting CPR on João Alberto’s unresponsive body, then draping a white cloth over him.
Over the following 48 hours, mass protests erupted in Carrefour supermarkets across Brazil. Thousands of people chanted “He couldn’t breathe,” “Racists, fascists, go away,” and “Black lives matter!” as they marched up and down the supermarket aisles, pumping their fists in the air.
The security guards responsible for killing João Alberto are currently in jail awaiting trial. Protests continue to demand a just sentencing and to hold Carrefour accountable.
Most killed by police in Brazil are Black
According to the Black Coalition for Rights in Brazil, 75.5 percent of victims of police murder in Brazil are Black. The Coalition, made up of over 150 anti-racist organizations, has been organizing to denounce this brutal killing of João Alberto Silveira Freitas. The coalition also launched a legal action against Carrefour at both the federal and local levels.
Activists demand a national and international boycott of the Carrefour supermarket chain, whose CEO and Vice President have issued a statement proclaiming its commitment to equality and justice.
Local politicians also promised to carry out an investigation into the killing, which happened just before the municipal elections in Brazil. However, activists say that a promise of an investigation will not be sufficient. They demand that João Alberto’s killers be jailed, and that there be an end to systemic racism in Brazil.
Roots of racism in Brazil
Racism is a structural issue in Brazil with its roots going back hundreds of years. Brazil is the country with the most Black people in the world outside of the African continent. It was the country that received the most enslaved people from Africa. It was the last country to abolish slavery in the Americas, continuing to traffic slaves after the activity was declared illegal around the world.
With the rise of the right wing under the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, violence against Black Brazilians has only risen. Hundreds of thousands of people are brutally beaten or killed by police year after year.
But a wave of resistance is growing. Recent nationwide elections for Mayor and City Council positions resulted in victories for Black women and men, LGBTQ people and Indigenous people. These electoral victories took place almost one thousand days after the murder of Black lesbian City Councilmember Marielle Franco at the hands of a militia in connected with President Bolsonaro.
Protests extend to New York City: Brazilian activists interviewed
In New York City, the organizations Black Coalition for Rights and Defend Democracy in Brazil called a protest in Union Square on Nov. 22. Speeches and chants raised awareness about the João Alberto case and the international boycott of Carrefour. Liberation News interviewed activists at the protests. The quotes below are translated from Portuguese.
Carol Fonseca, Coalizão Negra por Direitos (Black Coalition for Rights): “The Black Coalition for Rights has been articulating anti-racist actions throughout the year, making complaints, participating in protests, including here in the U.S.A. when the protests for George Floyd exploded.” The case of João Alberto Silveira Freitas “symbolizes one of several cases of racial violence in Brazil [where].every 23 minutes a young Black man is murdered. Cases of domestic violence, violence against women, increased this year mainly because of the pandemic. And 73 percent of these Brazilian women victims are Black women. So it is impossible for us to look at this case and not judge and not understand this case as a case of racism, because in Brazil racism is structural.”
Liberation News: What would you like for people internationally to do, to bring justice in Brazil?
Fonseca: “The first action of the Black Coalition for Rights was to call for a national boycott in Brazil against Carrefour. And these actions are now coming to an international sphere. So, some groups outside Brazil, in Europe here in the U.S.A., have called for a boycott. Petitions have been directed against Carrefour headquarters in France demand[ing] that Carrefour takes actions, actions that promote, for example, anti-racist training of their teams. We also want them to ensure that the children of parents and family members who were killed, in this case Alberto’s, have their studies paid and guaranteed until college, and that Carrefour take responsibility to ensure that other Black [people] are not killed in their supermarkets. The Coalition has spoken loudly that as long as there is racism there is no democracy. You can’t talk about democracy with racism being something that is part of its structure.”
Miriam Marques, Defend Democracy in Brazil: President Jair Bolsonaro and Vice-President Hamilton Mourão are “saying that there is no racism in Brazil. And yet young people are murdered every day–children, Indigenous people, women–every day! And the majority are Black men and Black women. This we have to stop!
“I loved seeing Carrefour stores all broken.” Whether the government calls it a revolt or not, the young people are in revolt. “It doesn’t matter how much a young Black man wants to study, how much he wants to win in life, nothing will change if, as we say in Brazil, he is at the wrong place at the wrong time. For young Black people all the time is wrong, just because their skin is Black. If this person at the supermarket was white, they wouldn’t have killed them.
“[An] uprising is the only language they hear and we are just getting started. …So we are here today to [say] that enough is enough, racism must [end] here and in Brazil. Black Lives Matter! Vidas Negras Importam (Black Lives Matter in Portuguese) here and in Brazil. Say his name, João Alberto, say her name Marielle Franco, say Cláudia. How many women and young people have been murdered? Enough! Black Lives Matter!”
Activist from the Brazilian organization Brado: This is not a true democracy. Let’s build a real democracy–with Black people, white people, Indigenous people–to end all the oppression that exists. I am happy to see here people from various collectives, from Defend Democracy in Brazil to the Black Coalition for Rights, and people of other ethnicities who are here with us. This represents the struggle. These are the people we need. These are the values that we need to put out, [that] we need to show to Brazil. The Black struggle is not a question of the Black person only, it is a question of the Brazilian society as a whole. Out Bolsonaro! Out fascists!”