A friend of 24 year-old Congolese immigrant Moïse Mugenyi Kabagambe, holds up a sign during a protest to demand justice for his violent death, at Barra da Tijuca beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022.

'African. Worker. Killed': Thousands demand justice for killing of Congolese refugee in Brazil 

Moïse Kabagambe, 24, was beaten to death while attempting to collect unpaid wages. His death has spurred calls for justice and accountability in a country where a young Black person is killed every 23 minutes. 

The World

A friend of 24-year-old Congolese immigrant Moïse Mugenyi Kabagambe holds up a sign with a message that reads in Portuguese: "Black lives matter. Cowards, killers," during a protest to demand justice for his violent death, at Barra da Tijuca beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Feb. 5, 2022. 

Bruna Prado/AP

Thousands of people hit the streets in major cities across Brazil on Saturday demanding justice for the killing of Congolese man Moïse Kabagambe, who was beaten to death in late January.

Kabagambe was a 24-year-old Congolese refugee who had lived in Brazil for a decade. He was killed on Jan. 24 in front of the Rio beachside kiosk where he worked. 

His death calls attention to endemic violence facing Brazil’s Black communities wherein assaults and killings of Black people often occur with no accountability. 

Related: 'This is a war scene’: Rio residents grieve, protest against deadly police raid

According to Kabagambe’s family members, he had gone to the beach kiosk to demand unpaid wages. 

“He was working. We work hard. ... We fled Africa to come to Brazil. Brazil, a mother who embraces everyone. Brazil, our second home. How are you going to kill our brother, who was working?”

Family member of  Moïse Kabagambe, who was beaten to death on Jan. 24, 2022

“He was working. We work hard,” a family member told TV cameras last week. “We fled Africa to come to Brazil. Brazil, a mother who embraces everyone. Brazil, our second home. How are you going to kill our brother who was working?”

Security cameras caught the deadly assault on tape. The video went viral and shocked the country.

Kicking off the weekend demonstration in São Paulo, one member of the African immigrant community cried out, “Justice, justice, justice,” amid chants and reggae music.

In one video from Rio de Janeiro, Congolese protesters chanted: “African. Worker. Killed.” People in the crowd wore T-shirts bearing the image of Kabagambe.

There are roughly 35,000 African immigrants in Brazil. This past weekend, many spoke out about the discrimination they encounter on a routine basis.

"Brazil opened its doors to me, but I ask: Did it really welcome me?" said one woman wearing a skirt with the map of Africa on it and a red shirt with Kabagambe’s face. “I have a degree, I have knowledge, but because of the color of my skin, only cleaning jobs are open to me.”

Related: Hunger, unemployment, health care inequity: The pandemic's devastating impact on Brazil's Black communities

Racism against African, Caribbean and Afro Latino immigrants runs deep in Brazil, said Wisly Jules, head of a Haitian immigrant group in the city of Florianópolis. 

“I’ve had people tell me that since I’m a foreigner, Haitian and Black, I can’t speak up. I don’t have the right. ... Yes, there’s discrimination.”

Wisly Jules, head of a Haitian immigrant group, Florianopolis, Brazil

“I’ve had people tell me that since I’m a foreigner, Haitian and Black, I can’t speak up. I don’t have the right,” he said. “Yes, there’s discrimination.” 

Jules also spoke with The World in 2019, shortly after the violent killing of Kerby Tingue, a 32-year-old immigrant from Haiti. He was beaten outside of a Florianopolis nightclub and then pushed onto an interstate highway Br-101, where he was hit by a truck and died instantly. 

“His death impacted us a lot,” Jules said. “We realized that us immigrants are isolated here. He was killed, and it was like nothing had happened. And it’s not just Kerby. There are many immigrants dying.”

Five Congolese immigrants have been killed over the last six years in Brazil, and no one has been held accountable. That’s one reason protesters were out in force this past weekend.

Reginete Bispo was among them. She’s a member of Movimento Negro, a decadesold movement for Black rights in Brazil and co-founder of the Black women’s Institute Akanni.  

“The killing of Moïse Kabagambe isn’t an exception. ... This happens daily in Brazil. And that’s because Brazil has yet to free itself from the legacy of almost four centuries of the slavery of Black men, women and children.”

Reginete Bispo, Movimento Negro, Brazil

“The killing of Moïse Kabagambe isn’t an exception,” she said. “This happens daily in Brazil. And that’s because Brazil has yet to free itself from the legacy of almost four centuries of the slavery of Black men, women and children.”

Related: 'Born in Blackness': A new book centers Africa in the expansive history of slavery

While precise figures on violence against Black immigrants in Brazil are hard to find, Bispo said her organization has documented more than a dozen killings in recent years just in her state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Analysts say racism is at the core of the violence facing Black immigrant communities. 

“In Brazil, it’s more important to talk about racism than xenophobia.  ... You don’t see cases of xenophobia against white people. Since this is a racist country, Black people are the greatest victims of violence.”

Karine de Souza Silva, international law professor, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil

“In Brazil, it’s more important to talk about racism than xenophobia,” said Karine de Souza Silva, a professor of international law at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, who works closely with immigrant groups in Brazil. “You don’t see cases of xenophobia against white people. Since this is a racist country, Black people are the greatest victims of violence.”

A young Black person is killed every 23 minutes in Brazil, according to figures from the Latin American Social Science University Flacso

President Jair Bolsonaro has yet to make any statements about the killing. Many of those on the streets accuse the president of rhetoric that enables this type of violence. 

“Right now, in their discourse and policies, Bolsonaro and his allies are working to [further] normalize actions like this."

Ailce Moreira, member of the Black Evangelical Movement, Recife, Brazil

Related: Progressive evangelicals in Brazil wage a battle ‘against Bolsonaroism’ ahead of elections

“Right now, in their discourse and policies, Bolsonaro and his allies are working to [further] normalize actions like this,” said Ailce Moreira, a member of the Black Evangelical Movement who demonstrated on Saturday in her hometown of Recife. 

“It’s important to go to the streets every time this type of crime happens. Because we need to say that positions and actions moved by racism won’t be tolerated.”

Like in the United States, video footage of violence against Black communities has spurred widespread Black Lives Matter-style protests in recent years. 

In Rio de Janeiro, police have detained the three men responsible for Kabagambe’s death. Family members hope that this time there may be justice.