Rise in ‘forced disappearance’ preys on Brazil’s young men of colour


Carlos Eduardo Nascimento was at a bar with friends in the city of Jundiaí, 50km from São Paulo, when the police arrived.

The only black man in the group, Nascimento, 20, was handcuffed, bundled into a squad car and driven away. Nearly three months later, he hasn’t been seen since.

Desperate family members say they have been stonewalled by the authorities and – as coronavirus panic sweeps the country – his father Eduardo Nascimento, says he has given up hope of seeing his son alive again.

“We don’t know where else to turn. If my son was from a rich family, he surely would have been found by now,” said Nascimento, a security guard.

Police investigators suspect a “forced disappearance”. Three military police officers who were in the patrol that searched the group have been suspended from duty.

Cases of poor young black men who are stopped by police and then show up dead or disappear completely are common in Brazil – and they are on the increase, according to human rights advocates.

“In almost all cases where the victim was last seen talking to police they are never seen alive again,” said Ivanise Esperidião, founder of Mums of Sé, an organization working with disappeared people.

Carlos Eduardo Nascimento. Pictures provided by family.Carlos Eduardo Nascimento. 

São Paulo’s public security secretariat has said “all the circumstances related to the case are being investigated”.

Nascimento’s father alleges that the four other young men who were with Carlos Eduardo when he was taken away are scared to speak out for fear of violent police reprisals.

Police impunity in the killings of poor, black or mixed-race victims is a notoriously longstanding problem in Brazil, the last country to abolish slavery.

“They disappear victims to make investigations even more difficult and to ensure impunity,” said Ariel de Castro Alves, a member of São Paulo’s human rights council.

In a rare case in which police have been investigated over such incidents, 10 Rio de Janeiro police officers were charged with torture and murder in 2013, over the disappearance of bricklayer Amarildo de Souza who vanished after being stopped by police.

But the case of Carlos Eduardo adds to growing fears about increasing police violence and abuse in Brazil under the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.

State governors control security forces in Brazil, but experts express fear that officers, have felt emboldened by the president’s rhetorical support for police violence.

Last year, Rio de Janeiro state – governed by former Bolsonaro ally turned political rival Wilson Witzel – registered its highest number of police killings on record. Most of the victims were black or mixed race.

São Paulo’s rightwing governor, João Doria, won a narrow victory in 2018, promising tougher measures against crime. The following year, police in the city killed 716 people, up from 642 in 2018 according to data from the police ombudsman.