‘Enough racism’: Twenty musicians play outside Rio prison after jailing of young cellist

7 September 2020, 16:27

Luiz Carlos Justino
Luiz Carlos Justino. Picture: Divulgação

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

On Saturday, 20 musicians from a Rio orchestra played outside a prison to protest the false imprisonment of Luiz Carlos Justino, a young black cellist. By the end of the night, a judge had decided to release him.

About 20 musicians from the Grota String Orchestra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, took out their instruments and played in front of the Benfica Prison Complex on Saturday, protesting the imprisonment of cellist Luiz Carlos Justino.

Justino, 23, who has played in the orchestra since he was six years old, has been in prison since Wednesday according to a column from Brazilian journalist, Ancelmo Gois.

He was charged with theft in Niterói, a city connected to Rio by a bridge, after a performance on a ferry journeying from the capital. The orchestra’s conductor, Marcio Selles, said there was a contract to prove Justino was working at the time of the crime.

The orchestra’s members, who held posters which read ‘respect the favela’, ‘enough racism’ and ‘justice for Luiz’ during their performance, say his imprisonment was motivated by racial prejudice. Brazil’s low-income favela neighbourhoods have historically experienced governmental neglect.

Following their protest, a judge advised that Justino should be released this Sunday. The family of the arrested cellist intends to sue the state for racism.

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Friends, family and followers of Justino’s case celebrated the news on social media, with one Twitter user writing: “Good news of the night!! The judge on duty has just decided on the release of the young musician Luiz Carlos, from the Grota String Orchestra, unjustly imprisoned. Victory of freedom!!!”

Cellist Rodrigo Soares, 25, said the demonstration aimed to draw attention to Justino’s arrest, and to prove it was unjust. “We were always rehearsing, and he intended to go to music school. I believe that this was motivated by prejudice, because he was taken away without even being allowed to explain himself!” he said.

Márcio Paes Selles, 65, who has been Justino’s music teacher since he was six years old, said he had no doubt the young musician did not commit the theft of which he is accused: “They said he would have taken a cell phone and 170 Brazilian Real [approx. £24 or $32].

“He would have been recognised in a photo. But it has never been recorded before! I’ve known him and his entire family for a long time. He never gave any kind of trouble!”

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Justino’s mother, Angélica da Costa, 40, also attended the demonstration. She hasn’t spoken to her son since Wednesday: “I received the news that he had been taken to the 76th DP around 8pm. So far, we have not been able to understand what is happening,” she said.

She added that Luiz, the second eldest of six brothers, is playful and only lives for music.

The young cellist has been married for five years, has a three-year-old daughter and is the sole earner in his family.

His wife, Mariana Soares do Nascimento, 18, said that she is still in shock: “He got up early every day because he knew he had a daughter to support. He was accused of a crime he did not commit!”