Brazil apologises after three diplomats’ Black teenagers searched at gunpoint

Estimated read time 4 min read

Brazil’s ministry of foreign affairs has been forced to apologise to the embassies of Canada, Gabon and Burkina Faso after three diplomats’ teenage children – all of whom are Black – were searched at gunpoint by police officers.

The incident emerged when the mother of a Brazilian boy in the group posted a security camera video online, prompting outrage – but also a weary recognition that such experiences are all too typical for Black youths in Rio de Janeiro.

The three diplomats’ children were in Rio for a five-day holiday with a white Brazilian friend, celebrating the end of the school year. All attend the same school in Brasília, where they live. It was their first trip without their parents.

Late Wednesday, they were returning from a day at the beach and were about to enter a building in the wealthy neighbourhood of Ipanema when a military police patrol car drew up. Two officers jumped out, ordered the boys to face the wall and searched them at gunpoint.

Rhaiana Rondon, the mother of one of the Brazilian boys, said the Black teens were singled out by the police officers during the search.

Rondon, who posted the video, said the footage made it clear that her son and his cousin were treated very differently from the Black foreigners.

“The officer guided my son much more gently because he is white, while the three Black youths had guns pointed at their heads,” she said.

In a statement to a state parliament committee, the teenagers said the officers “even demanded that they showed their private parts to check if there was any drugs underneath”.

One of the boys wrote to his parents saying that “when the agents left, they told us not to walk around, or we would be searched again”.

Rondon said: “The footage, testimonies, and the children’s accounts are clear: the search was racist.”

The three foreign boys are the sons of the Gabon and Burkina Faso ambassadors, and the other is the son of a Canadian diplomat.

Julie-Pascale Moudoute-Bell, the wife of the Gabonese ambassador, expressed her indignation to TV Globo, saying: “The police are there to protect. How could they point guns at the heads of 13-year-old boys? … We trust in the Brazilian justice system and we want justice, that’s all.”

On Friday, the ambassadors of Gabon, Burkina Faso and Canada were invited the foreign ministry in Brasília, where they received a “formal apology” from the Brazilian government.

The ministry stated that it called on the Rio state government to conduct a “thorough investigation and ensure appropriate accountability of the police officers involved in the incident”.

Amnesty International Brazil’s executive director, Jurema Werneck, said: “There’s nothing besides racism to explain the attack these Black teenagers suffered.”

But she added that such incidents happen daily in Brazil “in the favelas, outskirts, poor and Black communities”.

“Unfortunately, the brutality suffered by these teenagers is not the first and, sadly, won’t be the last. … In Brazil, no young Black person is safe”.

A recent report found that, in 2022, of the more than 1,300 people killed by the police in Rio, 87% were Black, a figure far above the proportion of Afro-Brazilians in the state’s population, which is 58%.

Rio’s military police, which is responsible for patrol duties, said that body camera footage from the two officers involved will be analysed to determine “if there was any excess”. The separate civil police, which handles investigations, said that two of its units – tourist assistance station and racial crimes – are probing the case.

Rondon said that the teenagers had been left badly shaken by the incident.

“On Thursday, they saw the same patrol car passing by, got really scared, and hid in an ice cream parlour,” said the Brazilian mother. “When they hear a siren now, even if it’s from an ambulance or the fire brigade, they get scared.

Rondon said she had given her son all kinds of guidance before the trip because she was worried about violence in Rio.

“I warned him to be careful with his phone on the street, not to leave his backpack on the beach chair,” she wrote. “But I never imagined that the police would be the biggest threat.”


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