Brazil apologizes after three black teenage diplomats were strip-searched at gunpoint


Brazil’s Foreign Ministry has been forced to apologize to the embassies of Canada, Gabon and Burkina Faso after the teenage children of three diplomats – all black – were frisked at gunpoint by police officers.

The incident came to light when the mother of a Brazilian boy in the group Posted a security camera video posted online, sparking outrage — but also a weary acknowledgement that such experiences are all too typical for black youth in Rio de Janeiro.

The three diplomat children were in Rio for a five-day vacation with a white Brazilian friend, to celebrate the end of the school year. They all go to the same school in Brasília, where they live. It was their first trip without their parents.

On Wednesday night, they were returning from a day at the beach and were about to enter a building in the wealthy Ipanema neighborhood when a military police patrol car pulled up. Two officers jumped out, ordered the boys to face the wall and frisked them at gunpoint.

Rhaiana Rondon, the mother of one of the Brazilian boys, said police officers singled out the black teenagers during the search.

Rondon, who posted the video, said the footage clearly showed her son and his cousin were treated very differently from black foreigners.

“The officer escorted my son much more carefully because he is white, while the three black boys had a gun pointed at their heads,” she said.

In a statement to a state parliament committee, the teens said the officers “even demanded they show their genitals to check if there were drugs underneath”.

One of the boys wrote to his parents that ‘when the officers left, they told us not to walk around or we would be searched again’.

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

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

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

On Friday, the ambassadors of Gabon, Burkina Faso and Canada were invited to the Foreign Ministry in Brasilia, where they received a “formal apology” from the Brazilian government.

The ministry said it was calling on the Rio state government to conduct a “thorough investigation and ensure that the police officers involved in the incident are appropriately held accountable.”

Jurema Werneck, director of Amnesty International Brazil, said: “There is nothing other than racism that can explain the attack on these black teenagers.”

But she added that such incidents occur daily in Brazil “in the favelas, suburbs, poor and black communities”.

“Unfortunately, the cruelty these teenagers are experiencing is not the first and will unfortunately not be the last. … In Brazil, no young black person is safe.”

A recent report found that of the more than 1,300 people killed by police in Rio in 2022, 87% were blacka figure that is well above the percentage of Afro-Brazilians in the state’s population, which stands at 58%.

Rio’s military police, which is responsible for patrolling, said bodycam footage from the two officers involved would be analysed to determine “whether there was excess”. The separate civilian police, which is conducting investigations, said two of its units – tourist aid and racial crimes – were looking into the matter.

According to Rhaiana Rondon, the teenagers were very shocked by the incident.

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

Rondon said she had given her son advice before the trip because she was concerned about the violence in Rio.

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

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