RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Brazilians awoke, on national Black Consciousness Day, to the news that a 40-year-old Black man had been beaten to death the night before by private security guards in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
A graphic video circulating on social media shows two white guards punching João Alberto Silveira Freitas in the face and throwing him to the ground in the parking lot of a Carrefour supermarket. The two guards - identified as Magno Braz Borges and Giovane Gaspar da Silva - then pin Freitas to the ground, one with a knee to the back of his neck, “like with the American [George Floyd],” an eyewitness told CNN Brazil.
“This man was escorted out of the supermarket,” police officer Roberta Bertoldo told local media, describing security camera footage. “He goes walking, until he turns around and throws a punch at the guards. From there on begins a series of uninterrupted aggressions from them, until he dies.”
Freitas’ wife, Milena Borges Alves, told a local news site that a group of employees and private security guards had escorted Freitas out of the store after a cash register attendant accused Freitas of making a threatening gesture. He was joking around, she said.
Alves said she finished paying, but when she arrived in the parking lot, Freitas “was already pinned down. He asked for help, and when I went to help, the guards pushed me.”
“They held a foot on him, and when he fainted, they kept the foot on him. A foot on the back, I saw it,” said Alves. Paramedics were unable to revive Freitas.
Police suspect suffocation as the cause of death, and both Borges and Silva have both been arrested and charged with homicide.
Though Bertoldo told Brazilian press that the Porto Alegre police had not found evidence of racism, Freitas’ murder fits a disturbing pattern of racist violence at Carrefour, other supermarket chains, and around Brazil, where 79.1 percent of victims of police violence are Black, according to the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, a think tank. The country’s population is 56 percent Black.
Brazilian supermarkets in general have seen multiple cases of racist violence in recent memory. In a February 2019 case, 19-year-old Pedro Gonzaga was choked to death by a private security guard at an Extra Supermarket in Rio de Janeiro. Months later, at a Ricoy Market in São Paulo, guards tied up and whipped a 17-year-old for a full 40 minutes for swiping a chocolate bar.
But Carrefour specifically has seen repeated incidents of violence and racism in recent years.
In August this year, a Black Carrefour employee was fired after denouncing a case of racism in Rio de Janeiro after pointing out a coworker had written “for whites’ use only” on an apron. In March 2019, security guards placed a disabled Black Carrefour customer in a chokehold after he opened a beer inside a location in São Paulo.
The French chain’s note to the press lamented the incident and promised an internal investigation, saying it had ended its contract with private security group Vector Segurança, through which one of the security guards were contracted. Its omission of any reference to racism drew immediate ire from civil rights groups and activists.
“There have been many cases of racism that have taken place in Carrefour’s stores,” the Coalizão Negra (Black Coalition) civil rights group tweeted. “This is not an exception. Racial violence is its rule.” The Black Coalition has called for a nationwide boycott of Carrefour’s products.
Protestors in Porto Alegre flooded the Carrefour parking lot where Freitas was beaten to death. Marchers in São Paulo carried signs demanding justice and commemorating Black Consciousness Day.
At a Carrefour location in Rio de Janeiro, organizers filled shopping carts with beef, an allusion to the Brazilian saying that “Black flesh is the cheapest meat on the market.” They held Vidas Negras Importam (Black Lives Matter) signs as they crowded through the aisles, chanting “Hey Carrefour, you can close! You killed our brother, you won’t stay open any more!”
“There are people here trying to buy groceries,” said one protestor over Instagram Live. “We’re telling them to buy their groceries at a place that doesn’t take Black lives.”