Brazilians are expressing their outrage over the death of a mentally ill Black man after a video shows police officers bundling him in the trunk of a squad car before discharging a gas grenade into the vehicle.
According to The Guardian, the May 25 incident occurred after the South American country’s federal highway police pulled over 38-year-old Genivaldo de Jesus Santos in the city of Umbaúba. In the video of the incident, Santos, who is in the police vehicle, is seen kicking his protruding legs as two officers hold on to the car’s trunk. A thick gas cloud is also seen emerging from the vehicle.
“They’re going to kill the guy,” an onlooker reportedly said as he became unresponsive. Santos’ cause of death was ruled as asphyxiation.
The deceased Black man’s family said Santos had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he was taking medication. The incident was also witnessed by his nephew Alisson de Jesus. He said he warned the police about his uncle’s medical condition before they discharged what he said was a teargas grenade. “It was a torture session,” he said.
Police use of lethal force in Brazil is common, and the country’s Black population usually bears the brunt of it, The Guardian reported. The Brazilian Forum of Public Security reports that 6,416 people were killed by Brazilian police in 2020. And Black people accounted for nearly 80% of the recorded deaths.
“Police officers turned a car into a gas chamber and executed a mentally ill man,” Black activist and Rio de Janeiro politician Renata Souza shared on Twitter. “There are no words in the face of such inhumanity. Brazil is an extermination camp!”
The state of Sergipe’s federal highway police released a statement saying the officers administered “immobilisation techniques” and “instruments of minor offensive potential” in response to Santos’ aggressive behavior. The federal highway police also said Santos fell ill while they were taking him to the police station. So they transported him to the hospital instead. But Santos’ family said he had already succumbed to his injuries at the time he got to the hospital.
“These two pieces of vermin know they are being filmed and yet they still applied a death sentence. There is no more decency or embarrassment. They tortured and executed the guy,” Douglas Belchior, a member of the Coalition for Black Rights civil rights organization, wrote on Twitter.
“How do you get on with your day [after that]? Mine will be terrible, thinking that me or one of my friends could be the next ones,” he added.
The incident is being investigated by the federal police. Prior to Santos’ burial, a protest demanding justice for his death was held in Umbaúba.
“This was a crime. They acted with cruelty to kill him,” Santos’s widow, Maria Fabiana dos Santos, told reporters.