For the last two years, Marielle Franco, a fierce city council member, was a champion for women, the poor and Blacks in Rio de Janeiro’s political sphere. On Wednesday, the 38-year-old Black leader was fatally gunned down in what supporters believe was an act of state-sanctioned retaliation for her progressive work.
Franco, a lesbian woman from the Maré favela, was leaving a Black women’s empowerment event that she helped organize in downtown Rio on the night of March 14, when two men released nine shots into her car, four hitting her head. She and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, were killed.
The news of her death spread quickly, arousing communities across the world to gather for vigils and protests. More than 15 cities across Brazil have held demonstrations, with 20,000 people showing up in Rio de Janeiro’s Cinelandia neighborhood on Thursday, the night she was buried. Other gatherings were held in New York, Buenos Aires and Paris.
Several activists and social justice organizations believe the shooting was political and a direct response to Franco’s vocal criticism of police violence. The day before her murder, the human rights advocate slammed officers for taking the life of a young person.
“Another homicide of a young man that could be credited to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many others will have to die for this war to end,” she wrote.
Police are still investigating the murder, but Quartz reports that the bullets used in her killing were from a batch purchased by the Brazilian federal police in 2006. According to the news site, these bullets were also used in an 18-person massacre in São Paulo in 2015.
Franco, who pursued human rights work after her close friend was killed by a stray bullet during a shootout between drug dealers and police, was a member of the liberal Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). In 2016, she was elected to city council, winning the fifth-highest vote of any councilor. During her campaign, she proposed 50 ideas to help women, the impoverished and Afro-Brazilians. When elected, she became the only Black woman representative on the 51-person council and one of only seven women. During her 15 months on the council, two of her 19 proposals — one regulating motorcycle taxis, a prime source of transportation in Rio’s favelas, and another aiming at City Hall contracts with social health organizations, which are often tinged with corruption — became laws.
As Franco’s death sends jolts throughout the globe, her passing is most felt among the Black Brazilian women she centered and championed.
“Her greatest victory was simply just being there and representing us,” Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus, an Afro-Brazilian college professor who plans to run for a seat on the Brazilian congress in the October 2018 national elections, told Quartz. “It was a victory for all the groups who have been historically excluded. Her occupation of this space; the approval of her laws; her presence in the debates; realization of events; all of this are indicators of her success.”
Protests around Franco’s murder are expected throughout the globe.
Recommend this story by clicking the share button below!