Unlike the US, Brazil doesn’t have two separate social classes, divided between whites and blacks. Though there are very few black people at the top of the social pyramid, they form a part of the Brazilian upper class, despite the fact that the country is far from a racial democracy.
Much ado has been made about the growth of the Brazilian middle class, which has included an increase in middle class blacks, as well as the simultaneous boom of consumerism. But as you’ll see from this terrible story – which has not made headlines in a single mainstream newspaper or TV program, while the sole “official” publication mysteriously was shut down Sunday night – things aren’t that simple.
Januário Alves de Santana, age 39 and originally from Bahia, is a family man who lives in Osasco, a suburb of São Paulo. He works as a security guard at the University of São Paulo, where he has been employed for eight years.
His wife, who works at the Museum of Modern Art at the university, decided to buy a Ford EcoSport for the couple to share two years ago. Considered a luxurious car, the couple are paying 789 Brazilian reais (US$ 427) installments in a set of 72 installments to pay off the purchase.
Note: Januário and his wife are black.
Last Friday, the couple, their two year-old daughter, five year-old son, and Januário’s sister and brother-in-law headed to Carrefour to go food shopping. The toddler fell asleep in the car, so Januário arranged with his wife to stay in the car with his daughter while the others went shopping. Shortly after, he noticed two suspicious men running away as a nearby motorcycle alarm went off.
The motorcycle’s owner came over, and Januário commented that it looked like the men were trying to steal the bike. Standing outside of the car, he noticed more suspicious men approaching him. Then one – who was actually a security guard – approached him and took out a gun. He attacked Januário without identifying himself, and Januário didn’t know if it was a mugger or a cop.
While they struggled, passersby called for help, and Januário thought he was saved. Several security guards from Carrefour approached, and he explained that it was a misunderstanding – he was not in fact trying to steal the motorcycle nearby. The security guards grabbed him and took him inside to a small room to “work out” what had happened. “So,” they said, “you stole an EcoSport and were trying to take a motorcycle, too?”
The five security guards then proceeded to beat Januário senseless, in what the original report called “a torture session,” hitting, punching, headbutting, and pistol-whipping him, knocking out his teeth and leaving him bleeding heavily.
Januário says he tried to explain that the car was his, and that his baby daughter was inside while his family was shopping. His attackers ignored him. “Shut up, n*****. If you don’t shut up, I’ll break every bone in your body,” one of them yelled. They laughed when he insisted it was his car. The beating lasted around twenty minutes, before the police arrived.
But the torture wasn’t over yet.
One of the military policemen, by the name of Pina, didn’t buy Januário’s “story.” “You look like you’ve been in jail a couple of times. Come on, fess up, it’s ok,” the police officer said. Another police officer didn’t believe he was a security guard, and started quizzing him about security rules.
Finally, the police went to Januário’s car and confirmed it did in fact belong to him and his wife. His family was there, shocked to see him bleeding with cracked teeth, and his daughter was still asleep in the car.
Instead of helping the couple or offering to send an ambulance, the police left. “If you want to write up a report, you’ll have to go to the station. You can sue Carrefour.” The family first went to the hospital, where Januário was treated for shock and lacerations.
Meanwhile, Carrefour released a statement saying the incident was nothing more than a fight between a few shoppers. The family registered a complaint with the local police, but it’s not clear what will happen next.
It’s not the first time Carrefour’s security guards have been violent. Earlier this month, Carrefour security guards in São Carlos, interior of São Paulo state, beat a construction worker in the store’s bathroom after he was caught stealing 26 reais (US$ 14) worth of groceries. After a brutal beating, the security guards locked the man in a closet until closing time at 10 pm. He died several days later of head trauma and internal bleeding.
So what will happen with this sickening race crime? Will the security guards be charged? Will they be sent to jail? Will they even lose their jobs? Will Carrefour get sued? Will Januario get a reasonable settlement? For context, in Rio last week, a woman won 25,000 reais or US$ 12,500, after she sued the state government for being mistakenly shot by a military policeman in 1999.
Or will Carrefour, one of Brazil’s largest retail chains and one of its most profitable foreign retail companies, go unpunished?
Rachel Glickhouse, born in 1984, spent two years living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after graduating from college in 2007. She now lives in New York with her Brazilian husband. She has also lived in Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina and has traveled through Latin America. You can find more about her in her blog: http://riogringa.typepad.com.
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