Associated Press photographer Victor R. Caivano captured this powerful image of a military police officer pepper-spraying a female protester during a demonstration in Rio on Monday night, June 17, 2013.A more widely-cropped version of the now viral photograph shows just how isolated the woman was when she was attacked by officers in Rio de Janiero, Brazil Monday evening. (Photo: Victor Caivano)
A captured instance of brazen police brutality against a civilian has, once again, captured the attention of the global community. The shocking photograph of a lone woman being pepper sprayed at close range by Brazilian police has gone viral, drawing criticism and attention to the ongoing mass demonstrations in Brazil—at which the attack took place—and the chronic undercurrent of police violence that so often follows peaceful citizen uprisings.
New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer spoke with the photographer behind the image, Victor Caivano, who said that the attack happened at around 11:20 PM Monday evening, long after “the protest was over, riots included.”
The woman appeared to be a “normal, middle-class university student,” he said, adding that she was standing alone on a “deserted corner” after the police had cleared the area.
Three riot officers approached the woman and told her to leave. When she objected — the woman either questioned the order or insisted that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, Caivano recalls — she was pepper-sprayed. “This policeman just didn’t think twice,” Caivano says.
The woman stumbled backward, “screaming and cursing.” She was detained and taken to a police van. Caivano says local reporters are now trying to track her down.
The photograph has drawn obvious comparison to two similar images of the unbridled use of pepper spray, each encapsulating the fierce police brutality that too often comes hand-in-hand with such demonstrations.
One is of a woman named Ceyda Sungur—the ‘woman in the red dress’—who, during a recent protest in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, was bombarded by an officer who shot pepper spray directly into her face.
“The jet sent her hair billowing upwards,” wrote the Guardian at the time. “As she turned, the masked policeman leapt forward and hosed down her back. The unprovoked attack left her and other activists choking and gasping for breath; afterwards Sungur collapsed on a bench.”
Ceyda Sungur is gassed in Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey on June 4, 2013. (Screenshot via Osman Orsal /YouTube)
The second image is of the infamous incident at the University of California at Davis when a peaceful Occupy protest was met with an overly aggressive show of police force. This culminated in Officer John Pike directly and deliberately spraying burning yellow chemicals into the faces of the protesters.
“To see unarmed, unaggressive bystanders who, by virtue of their location at a time and place where trouble was brewing, were assaulted by authority figures spraying burning, toxic, chemicals, is an unforgettable visual,” writes columnist Lorraine Devon Wilke. She continues:
“Likely there are many more that occur every day; these particular ones exist as iconic moments that symbolize bigger movements, of countries, of people, even of students. These images are important historical documents of what happened, how, and to whom. Hopefully they will contribute, by sheer virtue of their shock value, to change, progress, and needed solutions; the agony of those attacked has to account for something of value.”
Twenty-one students and alumni filed a federal lawsuit on February 22, 2012 against UC Davis over the University’s treatment of protesters during a Nov. 18, 2011 Occupy demonstration in which campus police were caught on video dousing seated protesters with pepper spray.(Photo: Louise Macabitas)