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Outrage Erupts In Brazil After Security Fatally Beats Black Man

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A Black man in Brazil has died after being severely beaten by security guards. It happened last night on the eve of Black Consciousness Day. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, his death has caused a huge outcry.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The beating was captured on video by an onlooker. The footage shows a Black man on the ground at a supermarket. A white security guard holds him down. Another strikes the man repeatedly in the face.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: The death of 40-year-old Joao Freitas is making headlines on a day in which Brazil is supposed to honor its Black citizens. It happened in the southern city of Porto Alegre. The supermarket's operators, Carrefour, are calling his death a brutal crime. Carrefour has canceled its contract with the security company. That's no consolation to Black Brazilians and many others, now flooding the Internet with messages of anger and despair. Or this crowd...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: ...Protesting this afternoon at their local Carrefour branch in the capital, Brasilia.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: I can't breathe, they cry. The security men who beat Freitas are charged with first-degree homicide. One's an off-duty policeman. They were reportedly called to the scene after an altercation between Freitas and a store employee. The local state governor, Eduardo Leite, promises a rigorous investigation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDUARDO LEITE: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: Everyone's outraged by this excessive violence that's led to the death of a Black citizen, says Leite. Yet for many Black Brazilians, this is all too familiar.

RENATO FERREIRA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: It's very common for people linked to security forces to kill Black Brazilians, says Renato Ferreira, a race relations lawyer. The death in the U.S. of George Floyd resonated in Brazil, which has a long history of violent racism. Tensions have grown under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

FERREIRA: (Non-English language spoken).

REEVES: Bolsonaro's election was a huge blow to many Brazilians, says Ferreira. Bolsonaro himself has not commented on Freitas' death. His vice president has. It's lamentable, General Hamilton Mourao told journalists. Yet on this Black Consciousness Day, Mourao went on to insist that in Brazil, racism does not exist. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.