Sao Paulo (CNN)Brazilians outraged by the death of a Black man after being beaten by supermarket security guards have been protesting in major cities across the country, chanting a phrase familiar to Americans: "I can't breathe."
Fury over brutal beating in Brazil amid pattern of 'daily' violence, activists say
Security camera footage from a Carrefour supermarket in the southern city of Porto Alegre obtained by the Brazilian news program Fantástico shows two security guards escorting João Alberto Silveira Freitas out of the store on November 19. Freitas, for reasons unclear, appears to punch one of the men.
The guards then beat him, including with blows to his head, knocking him to the ground and pinning him face-down with a security guard's knee bearing into his back and neck. After several minutes immobilized by the guard, during which numerous shoppers, employees and other guards appear to stand by as Freitas moans and struggles, he stops moving.
The police chief investigating the killing said Freitas appeared to have died from suffocation, according to CNN affiliate CNN Brasil. A preliminary analysis by the state's General Institute of Forensics said the death was due to asphyxiation, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported. Freitas' father has called the death a "murder" in interview with CNN Brasil and demanded justice.
The two security guards have been arrested but have not been charged. Carrefour quickly announced that it suspended its contract with the private security firm that employed the guards and that the manager on shift had been fired. An attorney for one of the guards told CNN Brasil that his client did not intend to kill Freitas and that he had only sought to "contain" him after being called in to respond to a "quarrel" occurring between Freitas and an employee. The second guard reportedly fired his attorney on Tuesday, and CNN has been unable to contact his new legal representation.
Freitas, a 40-year-old father of four, died on the eve of Black Consciousness Day, an official holiday in many Brazilian cities that honors the country's African heritage. Waves of protests have followed -- but been dismissed by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as imported "foreign tensions."
The brutal footage, which showed many passive bystanders, has helped precipitate protests in a country where the treatment of Black Brazilians is increasingly under scrutiny, according to Thiago Amparo, a professor and coordinator of the Racial Justice and Law Lab at the Getúlio Vargas University (FGV) in São Paulo.
"There is an increase in mobilization in Brazil concerning the deaths of Black people, especially by Black movement groups," he said. "When Freitas' death happened, it occurred in a society more mobilized around structural racism."
Many Brazilians reject the idea that their country is democratic melting-pot free of discrimination, pointing to racial disparities in numerous facets of daily life, including lethal violence. In May, as the United States grappled with the death of George Floyd, demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro protested at the governor's mansion under the banners "Black Lives Matter" and "Stop Killing Us" to denounce the alleged police killing of a Black 14-year-old in a favela on Rio's outskirts.
According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP), a São Paulo-based research group, Black and mixed-race Brazilians make up a little over half of the general population, but constitute 79% of people killed by law enforcement in a country that averages an extraordinary 17 police killings per day.
Reached for comment about the FBSP's findings, the Brazilian Justice Ministry responded that any incidents involving military police enforcing public security "must be investigated within the scope of the various competent bodies."
Protests over killings by police are so common in Brazil they have a distinct look: shirts emblazoned with the photos of a lost loved one and their date of death, painted banners calling for justiça.
Ana Paula de Oliveira, a mother and activist whose son entered into those daily statistics after he was shot in the back in 2014, said there is a pattern of violence against Brazilians who are poor and Black.
"Those of us who live in the favelas see this violence daily: a slap when police frisk you, breaking into your house without a warrant. And if I question it, I get beaten up," she said of daily life in Rio de Janeiro's low-income communities.
Brazil's supreme court has ruled that police can enter people's homes without a warrant if they have "well-founded reasons" to believe a crime is occurring.
Poverty is disproportionately a burden for Brazilians of color. More than 40% of Black and mixed-race Brazilians live below the poverty line, compared to less than 20% of White Brazilians, according to the Brazilian census bureau (IBGE).