The two guards, one of whom was an off-duty police officer, were arrested and are being investigated for homicide.
In a country increasingly reckoning with racism and the enduring imprint of its history of colonialism and slavery, the grisly beating of an unarmed Black man by two security guards reported to be White was met by rage and horror.
It immediately dominated newscasts and the homepages of the country’s biggest newspapers. Activists planned protests. Politicians on both the left and right expressed condemnation. Many said it was disturbing that the death occurred on the eve of Brazil’s Black Consciousness Day. Others compared it to the death of George Floyd in the United States.
“The correct name of what happened at Carrefour is MASSACRE,” prominent Brazilian journalist Octavio Guedes tweeted. “The entire society must react, or we are, one more time, complicit in our silence. MASSACRE!”
Former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva tweeted that racism was at the root of the country’s biggest problems. “It’s urgent that we interrupt this cycle,” he said.
Former justice minister Sergio Moro, who quit the administration of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro this year, said he stood in solidarity with Freitas’s friends and family. “Racial violence can’t be tolerated,” he said. “Let those who kill be rigorously punished.”
It remains unclear what preceded the violence Thursday evening. Freitas’s wife told police they had gone to the store to shop. A confrontation followed between Freitas and a store employee. Freitas’s wife said her husband had made a gesture that wasn’t specified. The news site G1 reported that Freitas allegedly threatened to punch the worker, who called security to take him out of the store.
Carrefour released a statement saying it has closed the store out of respect to the victim and vowed to hold to account those responsible. It said it has terminated its contract with the security provider and will adopt new policies to try to deter what it called an “inexplicable episode.”
The grocery store giant has been controversial in Brazil. In August, a man died in one store in the northern city of Recife, but his body was covered with umbrellas and the store continued to function for hours afterward. In 2018, a security guard beat to death a popular local dog with a metal bar.
The death of Freitas inflamed the national debate over police violence, which in recent years has grown into one of Brazil’s most pressing issues.
Amid rising rates of violence, a string of right-wing politicians won office in 2018, promising severe retribution for crime. In cities like Rio de Janeiro, police have surged into poor neighborhoods with a show of force that better recalled military action than community policing. It exacerbated long-running trends that showed that Black Brazilians bear the brunt of police violence.
Last year, more than 75 percent of the 5,800 people killed by police were Black.
Flávia Oliveira, a prominent journalist here, said Black Brazilians were once tormented by enslavers and conquerors. Now they’re menaced by security forces who are “trained to repress, curtail and kill Black men. We know this,” she said.
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