Black customers are suspect

Image: João Nitsche


It is necessary to overthrow the Brazilian apartheid

Once again, supermarket security guards, now at a Carrefour store, in Porto Alegre (RS), beat and murdered a black man, Alberto Silveira Freitas, 40 years old – violence that was recorded in photo and video.

The plot is always the same. Security agents in a shopping center or supermarket beat, use false imprisonment, murder, even, as in this crime, committed on the eve of Black Consciousness Day. The company informs that these are employees of an outsourced company and that it had never instructed that company to use violence. Soon after, comes a tearful statement, prepared by the security firm's legal sector, to save face from the owners. Announce some compensation.

The statement from that Carrefour in Porto Alegre follows the same ceremonial. His press office defined the death as “brutal” and announced that he would break the contract with the company that hired the security guards. He also informed that he will fire the employee responsible for the store at the time of the incident. And, more emphatically: “Carrefour informs that it will adopt the appropriate measures to hold those involved in this criminal act accountable (…) Out of respect for the victim, the store will be closed [shortly after the murder, the store remained open]. We will contact Mr. João Alberto's family to provide the necessary support”. What will happen next? In general, nothing happens. Because the company's lawyers will do everything to exempt it from any responsibility for a crime committed by a third party. The headline disappears from the front page… until a new identical occurrence.

It's high time we delved into this repetitive plot. Even if the owners of these commercial mega-networks do not give precise guidance to their employees or security agents regarding violence, there is no guidance for not committing the crime of racism. In malls, elegant agents, in suits, or suits for women, have the basic function of preserving those spaces for white customers. Poor or poorly dressed children – if black, even worse – are chased out of toy stores. Black customers are suspect in the first instance and zealous agents closely pursue them. There is an unwritten rule: black customers of any age are suspect.

Ideally, the owners of those establishments would voluntarily assume their responsibility, imposing clear clauses on their employees and contracts with security companies prohibiting the practice of racism or violence. As long as they do not do so, or as long as the legislative power does not adopt strict rules against racism and violence in large commercial complexes and in contracts with security companies, there is no other way but criminal and civil liability for the victims or their families. The public defender should give special treatment to these causes

Why do these horrors happen in supermarkets and shopping malls? Because the institution of democracy, in thirty years of full constitutionality, has not been able to overcome, despite affirmative policies and racial quotas, the apartheid that prevails in all areas of the life of the black population, now a 56% majority in Brazil. There can be no consolidated democracy with black men and women being executed on the outskirts of the metropolises by the PMs and tortured in prisons; absent from all places of power, such as the executive, the legislative, the judiciary, the public ministry; receiving lower wages than whites; being targets of racism on a daily basis.

At the moment under an extreme right government, gladly supported by white business elites, nothing to expect. We, white men and women, have to denounce, demand accountability for all crimes of racism and associate the fight against racism with that against inequality. The democratic oppositions, united in a broad front, must assume the effective overthrow of Brazilian apartheid as a top priority in the struggle to conquer power.

*Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is a retired professor of political science at USP and former Minister of Human Rights.

Originally published on blog of Arns Commission.


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