Latin America

Brazilian woman given four-year sentence for using racial slurs

São Paulo case sets precedent for country's majority black community, say lawyers

Davina Aparecida Castelli is questioned by police officers in São Paulo.
Davina Aparecida Castelli is questioned by police officers in São Paulo.

At the age of 75, Davina Aparecida Castelli is facing the next four years of her life under house arrest for shouting racial slurs at three people in a shopping mall located in the heart of São Paulo’s financial district.

“Monkeys” and “dirty blacks” were just two of the insults Castelli yelled at the victims, in front of dozens of other shoppers.

Her conviction and prison sentence are considered among the most severe to ever be handed down in a Brazilian courtroom for racism offenses.

The decision is a rare one not only because of its severity but also because the case had reached a final verdict

In Brazil, where more than 50 percent of the population is black or creole, racism is punishable under the penal code and is a crime where the statute of limitations doesn’t apply.

Last November, Castelli was originally ordered to pay €10,000 compensation to each of the victims and serve four years at a low-security prison. But her lawyers argued the punishment was too severe and appealed her sentence.

The incident took place in November 2012 at a pharmacy located inside a mall on São Paulo’s busy Paulista Avenue.

Karina Chiaretti, a real estate agent, and her daughter were looking at nail polish when Castelli approached them.

Macaca, I don’t like blacks,” Castelli said, using a pejorative term meaning monkey. “Blacks are dirty. Blacks should be kept in the shantytowns. The malls should be closed off to blacks.”

A Brazilian news report featuring footage of Castelli arguing with the police.

During the outburst, two other witnesses, Suelen Mariano and Alex Marques, approached and were also given the same treatment by Castelli. “I am superior to you because I am a descendant of Germans,” she said.

After the police arrived and the woman left the pharmacy, with the excuse she was going home to get some medication, Chiaretti, Mariano and Marques filed charges against her.

According to Chiaretti’s lawyer Francisco Queiroz, the court decision is rare – not only because of its severity but also because the case had reached a final verdict. It sets an important precedent for Brazil’s black community, he said.

“It wasn’t the sentence we expected but it is a victory for the entire black community,” Queiroz said. “People cannot remain silent when it comes to cases like this because if they do then prejudice will spread.”

People cannot remain silent when it comes to cases like this because if they do then prejudice will spread”

Other similar cases have also gained notoriety in Brazil with rulings handed down in favor of their victims.

In March 2014, Robson de Jesus Guerra Silva won a lawsuit against the US multinational retailer Walmart after two store employees accused the young man of stealing milk, confusing him “with another black thief.”

Last September, Brazilians watched live on their TV screens as a young woman, Patricia Moreira, shouted “Macaco!” at Santos goalkeeper Aranha during a soccer match against Porto Alegre team Grèmio.

Although she later issued a public apology, Moreira lost her job and had to move from her home after receiving death threats.

“The word ‘macaco’ is not racist in itself. It just came out in the middle of a heated match where Grèmio was losing,” said her lawyer.

But Aranha and prosecutors didn’t agree. The goalkeeper filed a complaint with police and the Superior Court of Justice for Sports voted unanimously to exclude Grèmio from competing in the Brazil Cup.

A word that ruined a US senator

M. DELFÍN

Widely unknown as a racial slur in the United States, the term “macaca” made headlines in 2006 when a Republican US senator running for re-election in his home state of Virginia used it to refer to a man at a rally.

“This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is. He"s with my opponent. He"s following us around everywhere. And it"s just great. [...] Let"s give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” said now former Senator George Allen, during a campaign stop in August 2006.

The man he was referring to was S. D. Sidarth, an Indian-American who was working for Allen’s Democratic opponent, Jim Webb.

Sidarth, who was born in the United States, was video-taping the rally in Breaks, Virginia for the Webb campaign.

A former state governor, Allen was expected to cruise to victory but the “macaca moment” – as the press later dubbed it and explained how the word was commonly used by French colonists in Africa – ruined his chances the following November.

Allen, whose mother is French and was born in North Africa, said he had no idea it was a racial slur and he didn’t intend it as one. He said he was improvising to make fun of the man’s “Mohawkish haircut.”

Because of the controversy, “macaca” became a finalist in the American Dialect Society’s “word of the year” contest.”

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