The killing of a homeless catador – an unofficial waste collector – has sparked fierce protests. For 20,000 marginalised workers with no rights, it may be pivotal

Shortly before 6pm on Wednesday 12 July, Ricardo Nascimento, a homeless man who made a living collecting recycling, got into a heated discussion with two military police officers outside a pizzeria. Nascimento, who was well-known to residents of the affluent São Paulo neighbourhood of Pinheiros, was holding a piece of wood; when he refused to drop it, the officers shot him twice in the chest. The 39-year-old died instantly.

It was still light and the roads were teeming with people. Locals and passersby began to shout “murderers” and “fascists” at the police. The officers packed the body into the trunk of a police car, and one witness, Gilvan Artur Leal, 53, said when he tried to help the prone man that if he continued trying to intervene he would be “next”.

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