Viral Torture Video of Murdered Transgender Woman Shocks Brazil, World
Smartphone video footage of a transgender woman being brutally assaulted before being carted off in a wheelbarrow and murdered has shocked Brazilians and drawn international attention to the dangers faced by trans people even in more permissive societies.
Dandara dos Santos, 42, was killed in Fortaleza, the capital of the northeastern state of Ceará, on February 15. Earlier this week, smartphone video emerged showing dos Santos begging for her life as a group of six men laugh and cheer while they brutally attack their victim, who is kicked in the face, beaten with a wooden plank and tossed into a wheelbarrow. The attackers mock dos Santos’ breasts and ominously shout they will “kill the faggot” before one of them pushes the wheelbarrow out of camera range. State military police (PM-CE) allege dos Santos was then shot and bashed in the head with a rock.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING VIDEO CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES
Police officials said the gruesome video helped them identify suspects. G1 reports seven people have been detained by police in connection with the attack, with police still searching for three additional suspects.
However, the police have been criticized for their slow response to emergency calls from witnesses to the assault. One witness told G1 he called PM-CE twice, imploring them to come quickly to the scene before something horrible happened. “It was a very cruel lynching,” the witness recalled. However, no officers arrived on the scene of the crime until after dos Santos was killed. PM-CE has been further criticized for its reaction to the murder; the first arrests in the case came two days after the viral video — and 18 days after dos Santos was killed.
Ricardo Vasconcelos, dos Santos’ 39-year-old brother, told BBC Brazil he blames the slow police response for his sister’s death, along with prejudice and intolerance. “We have to file a lawsuit against the state,” he said. “We have evidence, the people in the neighborhood where he died said that he called the police and the police only came in to isolate the body. And I think it’s because they said they would burn it if the police did not arrive.”
Ceará Public Safety Secretary André Costa defended the police and said the nearest patrol car was not dispatched to the crime scene because it was responding to another call. “In reality, what we have is that the demand is great for the vehicles that are on the streets, but we are working to put more vehicles on the streets,” Costa said.
While the police investigation continues, dos Santos’ relatives are still mourning their loss. “My son was loved wherever he went,” Dandara’s mother, 74-year-old Francisca Ferreira de Vasconcelos, told BBC Brazil. “Everyone on the street played with him, the boys, the bakery girls, everybody.”
“My son had no enemies,” the grieving mother added. “He was killed by prejudice.”
Dos Santos’ sister Sonia Maria told G1 her sister was selfless and always helping people. She also said Dandara had been hospitalized after a previous transphobic assault.
According to Grupo Gay da Bahia, Brazil’s oldest LGBTQ rights group, 343 LGBTQ people were murdered in Brazil last year. Of these, 144 were transexual or transvestite. There have been 23 reported murders of trans people in Brazil so far this year. The dos Santos murder isn’t even the first time such attacks have been recorded on video. In 2015, the nation was stunned when video emerged showing Piu da Silva, a beloved 25-year-old Carnaval samba queen, being tortured to death in a Rio de Janeiro favela.
Attitudes toward transgender people are quite paradoxical in Brazil. On one hand, transgender Brazilians are celebrated in the culture of Carnaval and in the realm of fashion and entertainment. They are also nominally protected under some of the world’s most progressive anti-discrimination laws, including the right to free gender reassignment surgery under the nation’s universal health care program.
On the other hand, transgender people face widespread bigotry and intolerance, much of it based on the dominant Catholic and surging Evangelical churches’ teachings. Violence against trans people is also widespread, and often brazen. Transgender Brazilians have few employment prospects outside a handful of fields such as hairdressing, domestic labor, nursing and gay entertainment. Many turn to sex work, which, at the street and lower levels, greatly multiplies their chances of being attacked or killed, sometimes by the police who are paid to protect them from harm.