Five-year-old's fatal plunge provokes hard questions about Brazil's racism
Mirtes Santana cries when she remembers that her son died on the sidewalk in front of the luxurious oceanfront apartment block where she worked in northeastern Brazil.
"I can't stand it," said the 33-year-old domestic worker. "It breaks my heart."
It was Tuesday, June 2nd, and Santana, who is black, had just returned from a walk with her wealthy white employer dog when she saw her five-year-old on the ground.
Miguel Otávio Santana da Silva fell nine floors after being left alone in an elevator by his mother's boss. He died in the hospital soon after.
"She killed my dreams," said Santana. "She ended my life."
Miguel's shocking, avoidable death in the city of Recife stunned Brazil.
In widespread CCTV recordings by Sarí Gaspar, who left the boy alone in the elevator, many saw not only the unacceptable neglect of a black child, but also an ugly memory of Brazil's deeply rooted racism and slave-owned past.
"Five-year-old Miguel's death could have been avoided if there had been empathy with a black child that didn't exist," said black rights activist Deise Benedito.
Related: Black lives shattered: Indignation as a boy, 14, is the youngest victim of the Brazilian police
While protests against racism take over the world after George Floyd's death, Brazilian demonstrators have also taken to the streets to demand justice for Miguel in a series of demonstrations that expose racism and police violence against Brazil's black youth.
Related video: Brazilian protests against black lives hit the streets
The video continues in the 1930s
"Brazil is unequal, completely unequal," said his mother.
Santana worked for four years for 29-year-old Gaspar and her political husband Sérgio Hacker in their apartment, cleaning, cooking and taking care of their children, together with Miguel's grandmother Marta.
On the day of Miguel's death, Mirtes worked alone and was asked to take out Gaspar's dog because her employer had a manicure.
What exactly happened in the minutes before his death remains unclear. The CCTV material shown on Brazilian television shows the boy in the elevator in front of the apartment on the fifth floor of the family and Gaspar on the door.
She seems to be trying to persuade him to return to the apartment before, in despair, either presses the button for an upper floor or pretends to press it.
Other pictures show that Miguel pressed more lifting buttons and got out on the ninth floor.
He appears to have climbed through a window before falling 35 meters to the ground. His mother accuses Gaspar like many Brazilians.
"She put my son at risk," said Santana. "There is no excuse."
Gaspar was arrested for culpable murder, a homicide crime with no intent to kill, and released on bail of 20,000 reais (£ 3,200 / $ 4,000).
"If it were the other way around, I wouldn't be released on bail because I'm poor," said Santana. "I don't have 20,000 reais."
In a letter published by Brazilian media, Gaspar Santana asked for forgiveness and said the courts "clarified the truth."
Her lawyer Pedro Avelino said she would explain her version of the events to the police if she was officially interviewed. “She never imagined that this tragedy would happen. That is the crucial point. "
Luciana Brito, a history professor of slavery at the Federal University of Reconcâvo da Bahia, said the case had uncovered inequalities that had persisted since its abolition in 1888.
See also: The director of Vogue Brazil resigns because of birthday photos that are reminiscent of slavery
Richer white Brazilians still employ black domestic workers. Mirtes worked six days a week. When Gaspar and her husband were isolated from the pandemic for two months at their beach house in nearby Tamandaré - where he is mayor - they and their mother lived to serve them and took Miguel with them.
"This is our form of white domination," said Brito. “That's why Sarí left Miguel in the elevator. She didn't see the boy as a person like her own children. "
On June 5, protesters protested in front of the building that Miguel had fallen from and lay face down on the floor to remember the location where he was found.
Santana said the rallies gave her strength.
"My pain is your pain," she said. "The images and impunity create this aversion."
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