Police in Brazil gas man to death in car trunk, video appears to show
Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, 38, was dead when police took him to hospital on Wednesday, his relatives said. He was unarmed and suffering from schizophrenia when Federal Highway Police fatally gassed him on the side of the road, according to his nephew, who said he was at the scene.
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Even in a place long accustomed to police killings, the video, widely shared on social media, sparked horror and outrage across Brazil.
“We told the police all the time that he had a heart problem, that he had mental problems,” his nephew, Wallison de Jesus, told The Washington Post. “And they continued the torture, telling everyone to stay away.”
Brazil’s federal police released a statement on Thursday saying they were investigating the death of Santos in the town of Umbaúba, in the northeastern state of Sergipe. In a separate statement, the Federal Highway Police also said it would cooperate with investigating authorities and had already suspended officers involved in the incident.
The video sparked protests in Santos’ hometown and calls for justice across Brazil, where police are known for their warlike raids – encouraged by far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as part of his agenda crime-fighting populist.
On Tuesday, the day before Santos died, at least 21 people died during a police operation in Rio de Janeiro. It was one of the deadliest raids in recent years, but only the latest in a long list of such operations.
Santos was black, according to Brazilian reports, and his death also sparked anger over a history of discrimination and disproportionate use of force by police against black men.
“There is no way out for Brazil that is not based on guaranteeing the lives of the black population,” said Douglas Belchior, a member of an activist group called the Brazilian Delegation of the Black Movement.
Lucas Rosario, spokesman for the Sergipe Public Security Secretariat, which oversees the state’s police, declined to comment on the veracity of the video. She said Santos’ family members provided the video as evidence when they filed a police report on Wednesday.
“The images are simply shocking,” said Samira Bueno, executive director of the nongovernmental Brazilian Forum on Public Security. “It’s a mentally ill person, and it’s the story of you using the vehicle as a gas chamber to immobilize a person.”
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The Sergipe Institute of Forensic Medicine, which performs autopsies abroad, said on Thursday that Santos died of asphyxiation but was unable to determine the “immediate cause” of death.
Santos’ nephew told the Post he saw police throw a tear gas canister into the car.
Rosario said the source of the gas seen leaking from the vehicle is under investigation.
Eyewitnesses and police provided contrasting accounts.
Officers said Santos had “actively resisted” police approaching him, according to a statement on Wednesday, and that he “became ill” while being transferred to a police station.
De Jesus, the nephew, said police stopped his uncle, who was riding a motorbike, and asked him to lift his shirt. Santos began to get nervous after police found packets of his medication on him. The nephew said he told the police about his uncle’s mental condition and that he needed the medicine.
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“Then the torture session started,” de Jesus said.
Police grabbed Santos’ arms, kicked him in the legs and threw him to the ground, his nephew said. After knocking him to the ground, officers tied his legs together and threw him into the car with the tear gas canister, de Jesus said.
Santos’ wife, Maria Fabiana dos Santos, told G1 that her husband had been living with schizophrenia for two decades but had never been violent.
“I lived with him for 17 years,” she said. “He never assaulted anyone, never did anything wrong, always doing the right thing. And at a time like this, they grabbed him and did what they did.
Ronaldo Cardoso da Silva, a local teacher and social worker, told the Washington Post he had been Santos’s friend. He survived on Social Security benefits and occasional odd jobs, sometimes driving a rickshaw and letting cash-strapped passengers ride for free, Cardoso da Silva said.
Some 6,000 Brazilians died after being intentionally shot by on-duty police officers in 2020, according to data from the Monitor of Use of Lethal Force in Latin America, a consortium of researchers and scholars from the region.
Bolsonaro called on criminals to “die in the streets like cockroaches” and said police officers who kill criminals “should be decorated, not prosecuted”.
José Luiz Ratton, a professor of criminal studies at Brazil’s Federal University of Pernambuco, said the increase in violent raids in recent years targeting “vulnerable socials” has been “fueled by authorities… who encourage and reinforce the violent, unregulated and uncontrolled police action in the name of “fighting crime”. ”