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A woman sprays pepper gas on a man in Cali, Colombia. The incident has been hotly debated on social media in the country.

Man pepper-sprayed in viral video from Colombia claims he “did no wrong”

A professor explains the issue with what he said to the woman

By Juan Merchan , in City , on December 15, 2020

A viral video showing a woman pepper-spraying a man in Cali, Colombia this past November has sparked massive condemnation on social media about what the man might have done to cause the woman’s reaction.

Now, the man seen in the video — which has been viewed two million times on Twitter alone — is speaking out, claiming he didn’t do anything wrong. 

“My consciousness is clear, said 60-year-old Diogenes Barbosa, the car mechanic who was attacked by the woman.

Since the video went viral, the public has largely assumed she came into the shop and pepper-sprayed him because he overtly harassed her with a sexual comment.

Barbosa said he was fixing a tire when the woman walked by and that all he did was say hello. 

However, he admits that, when he said hello, he also used a term that’s considered a racial slur to many people. He claimed he said,“Hi, my Black (woman)” in Spanish.

While he thinks she may not have liked the comment, he also insists that “I did no wrong.” 

A gender studies professor disagrees

A professor in gender studies at Valle University in Cali said there are two problems with what Barbosa said to the woman that day. 

“It might be that he doesn’t see it that way, but it is a harmful act and another specific example of how women are treated in the streets of Cali everyday,” said Norma Bermudez.

“The first is that he called her Black (woman), which in and of itself is sexist. The second is that he said ‘mine,’ which implies that the woman belongs to him in some way.”

Video posted online by shop owners

Barbosa said it’s been discouraging to see reactions to the video. While a few users condemned the woman’s reaction, the majority of people online largely praised what she did. 

The video was posted online by his employer with the hope of identifying the woman. 

Instead, it triggered speculation and criticism about Barbosa’s behaviour that day and led to a broader online conversation about women’s experiences with street harassment in the country. 

Stop Street Harassment, a Washington-based non-profit organization, defines street harassment as “any unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent.”

Bermudez said it’s an issue that is on the rise in Cali. She said there’s a culture of conversational intimacy in the city that may be a contributing factor. 

“People treat each other in a more open and warm way, so this can normalize this type of harassment suffered by women,” she said. 

The identity of the woman in the video remains unknown. 

Barbosa said police encouraged him to take legal action when the incident first happened, but he didn’t want to. 

I don’t want to take this any further,” he said.