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Media coverage of lynching in Brazil stir debate about sensationalization of violence

The recent lynching of a 29-year-old black man by residents of São Luís on the northern coast of Brazil and the killing’s treatment in the country’s news outlets has ignited a debate on how media cover and sensationalize extreme violence.

More broadly it launched a debate about race, crime, extrajudicial killings and impunity in the South American country.

On July 6, residents of São Luis, the capital city of the state of Maranhão, tore off Cleidenilson Pereira da Silva’s clothes, tied him to a post and beat him to death while also throwing stones and bottles, according to news reports. He and a teenager had been accused of attempting to rob a bar. The teenager was also beaten.

Accompanying some news reports on the killing are close-up photos of Pereira da Silva still tied to the pole with spatterings of blood surrounding him. The image has been blurred over the area of his naked body. Close by, the handcuffed teenager is laying face-down, fully clothed.

Much of the conversation has centered around the July 8 cover of the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Extra, which is part of Globo Group, Brazil’s largest media conglomerate.

Front page of July 8 issue of Extra, courtesy of the publication’s Facebook page

The cover features two images stacked on top of each other.  

The first is an image of the painting “L’exécution de la Punition du Fouet” (“Execution of the Punishment of the Whip”), by Jean-Baptiste Debret, which shows a slave tied to a trunk being flogged while other men look on in a town square in the 1800s. It is one of many paintings Debret made during his visit to Brazil.

The second image is a photo of Cleidenilsen Pereira da Silva, broken down and tied to a pole by rope. The photo is taken from behind the pole, so Cleindenilson’s face and body are mostly obscured.

In both images, crowds stare at the men.

In block letters on the page, it says “From trunk to pole.”

Then a note: “The 200 years between the two scenes above lead us to a reflection: Have we evolved or regressed? If in the past the slaves were forcefully taken to the public square to see the flogging with their own we regressed even further. Cleidenilson da Silva, 29 years old, black, young and shantytown dweller, as the immense majority of the victims of our violence, was lynched after robbing a bar in São Luis, Maranhão. If in 1815 the crowd impotently watched the barbarism, in 2015 the vast majority applaud the wildness. Literally so, as in São Luis suburb or on the Internet. From 1,817 comments on EXTRA’s page on Facebook, 71% supported the contemporary ‘feitores’ (slaves overseers).”

It is uncommon for Brazilian newspapers to publish this kind of editorial on the front page.

Planeta Osasco said of the cover “On historic front page, newspaper shows the backwardness of Brazil.”

Since the newspaper posted the cover to its Facebook page on Wednesday to the afternoon of July 10, it has almost 39,000 shares and about 6,500 comments.

One comment reads, “Extra, go to hell to defend criminals. 200 years ago blacks were beaten because they were blacks, don’t compare a criminal with an innocent. I am against this attitude, but the comparison was ridiculous.” It had more than 7,000 likes.

Brasileiros magazine’s website published an article, “The media role on the double lynching in Maranhão,” on July 9 commenting on the lynching and the way media outlets in Brazil sensationalize the coverage of violence.

The author said that media coverage “highlights the violence and degenerates the situation even more.” The article does not mention the newspaper Extra specifically, but it says that the publication of Claindenilson’s photo creates a “double-lynching” of him.

Journalist Maria Carolina Trevisan told Brasileiros that the press contributes to situations that lead to this kind of violence. “The news reinforce the idea of having a perception of impunity, which reinforces the feeling of revenge in people.”

Extra spoke with Pereira da Silva’s stepmother about the photos that showed her stepson tied to the post. She said “It’s everywhere, right (she shows a newspaper that has on the front cover the image of the bloodied and naked boy). And it hurts a lot. You don’t know how was the head of my son, completely injured. I do not accept it (Maria cries). He was tied like an animal. The outrage is not so much the death, but the way it happened. "

The newspaper prompted her about comparisons being made to the time of slavery and she responded, “For me, it makes perfect sense. Is that what we want, people tied on the trunk, being beaten? Do we really want it back? I don’t even know if these people are really humans, cause this is something we can’t do.”

Police are investigating Pereira da Silva’s murder and have identified suspects.

The police chief of the district, Jeffey Furtado, said “It’s not just because a person is a dealer, a murderer, or whatever, that people can, using their own reasons, kill the person. This is totally against the law,” Extra reported.

Pereira da Silva, who lived in João de Deus, did not have a criminal record, according to Extra.

Extra reported that according to news articles from the region, there were nine lynchings that ended in death in Maranhão in 2014.


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