A crowd protests the death of Rio de Janeiro city councilwoman Marielle Franco in March, 2018. Brazilians across the country demonstrated again on Feb. 20 to protest the death of 19-year-old Pedro Gonzales, who suffered a heart attack after a supermarket security guard put him in a “sleeper hold.”
Photo: AP

Black Lives Matter protests broke out in at least five different cities in Brazil last weekend following the death of a young black man who was restrained by supermarket security in an upscale suburb of Rio de Janeiro.

Pedro Gonzaga, a 19-year-old student and father, died of a heart attack last Thursday after being immobilized by a security guard at an Extra supermarket in Barra de Tijuca, reports the Guardian. Video of the confrontation, which went viral, shows Davi Ricardo Amâncio laying on top of a motionless Gonzaga. Around the two men onlookers can be heard protesting. One woman can be heard saying “Não está armado” (“He is not armed”) according to Globo.com. Another says, “He is suffocating him.”

Advertisement

As the Guardian reports, Afro-Brazilians compared the grim video to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer.

Advertisement

Enraged by Gonzaga’s death, activists in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Recife protested “genocídio negro” (black genocide)—a term reflecting the grim reality that black Brazilians make up nearly 75 percent of all homicide victims. In fact, just a week earlier, a black 11-year-old, Jenifer Gomes, died at the hands of police officers, activists say, though the police have denied responsibility.

And nearly a year after the assassination of Marielle Franco, a black city councillor from Rio, the case remains unsolved.

Advertisement

According to the Rio Times, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the Extra supermarket in Barra on Sunday with signs bearing the slogans “Vidas Negras Importam” (Black Lives Matter) and “carne negra ser a mais barata do mercado” (“black/dark meat is the cheapest meat in the market,” or, “the cheapest meat in the market is dark”), which comes from a 2002 Elza Soares song, “A Carne.” The same cries could be heard in Curitiba, Campo Grande and Salvador do Bahia, according to the blog Black Women of Brazil.

Advertisement

As with many cases of police brutality in the U.S., the video showing the confrontation refutes Amâncio’s version of events. Amâncio claimed that Gonzaga was reaching for his weapon, but according to the Guardian, video has been circulating that shows Gonzaga “approaching the security guard, who was standing beside a supermarket staff member, falling to the ground, getting up and falling to the ground again.”

The Rio de Janeiro newspaper, O Globo reports that Gonzaga was being taken by his mother to a rehabilitation clinic when the two stopped by the supermarket to grab lunch. While there, Gonzaga had a fit or some kind of psychotic episode. Footage does not show Gonzaga reaching for Amâncio’s gun.

Advertisement

Afro-Brazilian activists say the country may have reached a tipping point when it comes to organizing around black lives. Black Women of Brazil notes that the response to Gonzaga’s death this past weekend far eclipsed that of protests from previous years: In 2015, a police shooting of five black youths in Rio mobilized a crowd of 40. This past weekend, the crowd in Rio was closer to 500.

Rene Silva, one of the organizers of Rio protest, told the Guardian: “There has never been a Black Lives Matter [movement] in Brazil to compare to the United States, but this year I think it will happen more often because the black community is more and more united.”