SAO PAULO – The death of George Floyd has led to a brighter spotlight being shined on police abuse in Brazil, where there has been a sharp rise in law-enforcement-related violence in recent months and security forces are suspected of killing two black teenagers over the past five weeks.
Guilherme Silva Guedes, a 15-year-old who lived on Sao Paulo’s outskirts; and Joao Pedro Mattos, a 14-year-old from the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, died as a result of purported police violence.
On Sunday, a 19-year-old man from the Sao Paulo metro area, Gabriel Nunes de Sousa, became the latest victim of police abuse when he temporarily lost consciousness after an officer put him in a chokehold.
Two of those incidents occurred after the May 25 death of Floyd, an African-American man who passed away in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on the handcuffed suspect’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
“Police violence in Brazil is constantly denounced by social movements, especially in marginal areas,” but Floyd’s death – and the widespread protests and unrest that followed – allowed them to bring visibility to more cases and exercise “greater oversight over the conduct of officers,” David Marques, project coordinator of the non-profit organization Brazilian Forum on Public Security, told EFE.
This “social vigilance” of the Brazilian police forces aims to counteract the “historical lack of external oversight over police activity,” said Marques, who stressed the key role of the new technologies and social media in generating an impact.
Police reform is now becoming a reality in Brazil following a case that has evoked comparisons to the Floyd incident.
This week, Sao Paulo state’s center-right governor, Joao Doria, issued a decree requiring the “retraining” of Military Police officers following the emergence a viral video showing Nunes de Sousa passing out after being choked by a police officer in Carapicuiba, part of the Sao Paulo metro area.
The cop who applied the chokehold and another at the scene both have been suspended from the Military Police force.
That incident occurred just two days after another controversial police incident – also caught on video – in which two street vendors were struck by rubber bullets during a police action on June 19 on Sao Paulo’s south side.
Young, black males who live on the outskirts of Brazil’s large cities are three times more likely to die in police operations than the average citizen, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Security.
One of these victims was Silva Guedes, a 15-year-old Afro-Brazilian who died on June 14 in a police-involved incident. The Military Police officer in that case has been arrested.
The death of that teenager – found with two gunshots to the head in Diadema, a municipality on Sao Paulo’s outskirts – sparked protests against racism and police violence in the youth’s home neighborhood of Vila Clara.
During protests last week, which devolved into clashes with police and arson attacks on buses, at least three videos surfaced that showed police officers beating civilians.
Less than a month before that incident, the 14-year-old Mattos was shot and killed at his home on May 18 in Rio’s metro area. Nearly 70 bullet holes were found at the scene.
Although the social response has not been comparable to the reaction to Floyd’s death in the US, Mattos has become a symbol of “Black Lives Matter” protests in Brazil.
The investigation in that case is ongoing.
Three officers who were involved in the fatal operation are suspected in the teenager’s death based on ballistics evidence at the scene; they remain on the Civil Police force but have been assigned to administrative duties.
Despite the coronavirus-triggered lockdowns in Brazil, civil and military police officers killed 741 people between January and May of this year in Rio de Janeiro state, the largest number of police-involved killings during that five-month period since 1998.
There were 177 deaths in police operations in Rio state in April alone, up 43 percent from the same month of 2019.
In Sao Paulo, meanwhile, the number of people killed in police actions also rose during the health emergency, climbing 31 percent between January and April compared to the first four months of 2019.