By DOM PHILLIPS with The New York Times
RIO DE JANEIRO — The killing of a transgender woman who was beaten, tortured, shot and then bashed on the head with a big stone has horrified and transfixed Brazil, training attention on the violence and discrimination suffered by transgender people in South America’s most populous nation.
The victim, Dandara dos Santos, 42, was killed in Fortaleza, in the northeastern state of Ceará, on Feb. 15, but the case has gained international attention as a cellphone video documenting her abuse has circulated on YouTube and other social media.
The police in Brazil have arrested three teenagers and two men in connection with the torture and killing. Officers said that the video had helped them identify the suspects but that they were still looking for others.
“Every and any attack on life has my deepest repudiation,” the governor of Ceará, Camilo Santana, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday.
The grisly video shows Ms. dos Santos sitting on the ground, covered in dust and blood, being kicked in the face, beaten with a plank of wood and forced into a wheelbarrow. According to the authorities, she was later taken to a nearby street, shot twice in the face and then bludgeoned; the killing is not shown in the video.
“This was a very cruel crime and it shocked us,” said Bruno Ronchi, a police officer who is leading the investigation.
He said that the Bom Jardim district of Fortaleza, where the crime occurred, was a low-income neighborhood and that some of the suspects who had been arrested were involved in drug trafficking and other crimes.
According to Rede Trans, a Brazilian website that monitors attacks on transgender people, a record 144 transgender people were murdered in 2016, compared with 57 in 2008, when the site began recording cases.
“The repercussions only came after the video was released. If not, it would have been another crime that would have been ignored,” Sayonara Nogueira, a transgender woman and the site’s coordinator, told the news outlet UOL.
Maria da Silva, a transgender woman, lawyer and activist, said that Brazilian society marginalized transgender people.
“When you don’t have respect for a segment of population, that ends up in violence,” she said.
Ms. da Silva works with Tem Local, a site that documents attacks on gay and transgender people in Brazil, in an attempt to make such hate crimes more visible.
“Before these things happened and were not seen,” she said. “Now we are starting to combat this.”
Ms. da Silva welcomed the arrests and the official condemnation of the attack, but said that the popularity of public figures like Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right lawmaker known for airing fiercely anti-gay views, illustrated Brazil’s growing conservatism and created an atmosphere that had legitimized violence.
“It is a part of the Brazilian population that was hidden, that was in the closet, and now it has a leader, it has a discourse to legitimize it,” she said.
Mr. Bolsonaro, who is said to be considering a run for the presidency next year, has excoriated immigrants and defended the torture of drug traffickers. He once told a fellow lawmaker that she was not worthy of being raped by him.
Follow Dom Phillips on Twitter @domphillips.