Death of a Man with a Disability at the Hands of Brazilian Police

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Screengrab from a video posted to social media shows smoke coming out of a police vehicle where Genivaldo de Jesus Santos was held, in Sergipe, Brazil, May 25, 2022.

The death of Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, a 38-year-old Black man with a psychosocial disability, on May 25, 2022 at the hands of Federal Highway Police in the Brazilian state of Sergipe, is deeply disturbing.

Bystanders recorded a video showing two police officers approaching Santos and insulting him. He does not appear to offer any resistance. A later video appears to show the officers holding him down on the ground. In another video, police seem to be putting him in the back of a patrol vehicle. While one officer holds the door of the trunk down tightly over Santos’ legs, another is seen throwing what seems to be a teargas grenade inside. The officers in the footage display no concern for Santos’ health or life, even as his legs kick and large amounts of smoke come out of the vehicle. Sounds like moaning can be heard.

The coroner’s office said Santos choked to death. Bystanders said he was unarmed. Police later said he was stopped for not wearing a motorcycle helmet.

After the videos came out, the Federal Highway Police command in Sergipe issued a statement saying the officers had used “immobilization techniques and tools with less potential for causing harm” against Santos and that they had taken him to the hospital as he felt unwell. The command said it had opened an internal investigation and, later on, added it had temporarily relieved the officers of their duties.

Federal prosecutors should investigate the reasons for Santos’s arrest and the circumstances of his death, including possible evidence of torture. They should also assess whether the Federal Highway Police has adequate protocols and training for any engagement with people with psychosocial disabilities.

Santos’s killing occurred days after 23 people were killed during a police raid in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazilian police killed more than 6,100 people in 2021, 80 percent of them Black. Investigations into police killings are often flawed and very rarely result in charges.

Brazilian authorities have an obligation under domestic and international law to conduct prompt, thorough, and independent investigations into all police killings, and bring anyone responsible for wrongdoing to justice. They also need to enact deep reforms so that abuses are not committed in the first place.

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