“Another murder of a young man…Matheus Melo was leaving church. How many more will have to die for this war to end?” – Marielle Franco in what would be one of her last tweets
Marielle Franco was elected to the City Council in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with more than 46,000 votes. She was the only black female and one of seven women on the 51-seat council. A black, LGBT woman raised in one of Rio’s poorest and most violent slums, the Maré complex, Franco was a well-known human rights defender and activist, a powerful and vocal critic of police brutality, and a passionate advocate for black women in Brazil. She was considered by many a political rising star in Brazil.
At just 38 years old, Franco’s bright future was brutally cut shortwhen nine shots were fired at the car she was in on her way home from an event on black women’s rights and social justice. Her driver was also murdered in the shooting.
“What happened is a scary fact and is another example of the dangers that human rights defenders face in Brazil. As a member of the Rio de Janeiro State Human Rights Commission, Marielle worked tirelessly to defend the rights of black and young women in favelas and other marginalized communities,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil and Global Fund for Women Board Member, in a statement posted by Amnesty International Brazil. “The Brazilian authorities must ensure a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into this tragic assassination. The state must protect witnesses and survivors and bring the guilty parties to justice. The authorities cannot let human rights defenders be killed and their killers go unpunished.”
Global Fund for Women joins the movement of Brazilian women and women’s groups expressing outrage after the shocking assassination of Marielle Franco. We stand in solidarity with our Brazilian partners, grantees, and sisters as well as family and friends who are mourning the loss of a fearless leader, friend, and mother. And we join the tens of thousands of Brazilians who have taken to the streets throughout Brazil to mourn Franco.
We demand justice and accountability for those responsible for taking Franco’s life and the life of her driver. We demand that the investigation into her murder be carried out quickly, with heightened transparency, and by an independent authority without ties to the Brazilian government. We echo the statement of the UN Human Rights Office in saying, “Strenuous efforts must be made to identify those responsible and bring them before the courts.”
“The nine shots that took Marielle from us were against all women, directly against the black people, the communities of Rio de Janeiro and the human rights defenders who fight to end the genocide of the black population in Brazil and for gender equity,” shared ELAS Fund, Brazil’s only women’s fund and a close Global Fund for Women partner, in a solidarity statement.
Franco was outspoken against Brazilian President Michel Temer’s decision to send military troops into Rio—a decision that has led to escalating violence and is a dangerous ploy for militarization of public security in the city. Two weeks before her murder, Franco was appointed rapporteur of a special committee of the city to monitor this current militarization of public security in Rio.
”Not only was Marielle an activist but she was a black activist. Black women’s struggles in Brazil have been under the radar for a long time,” said Musimbi Kanyoro, Global Fund for Women’s President and CEO. “But today, they speak out in the name of their race, they organize and create consciousness about their marginalization. We did not have to wait for Ms. Franco’s death to hear their voices.”
Franco’s fate is one all too familiar for women human rights defenders around the world who dare to speak up for justice and equality, and to speak against governments, corporations, and others in power. We recognize the critical, courageous work of women human rights defenders who are putting their lives at risk through their activism, and support local, national, and regional initiatives advancing the safety and security of defenders.
Please join us as we continue to raise our voices and call for international solidarity until there is #JusticaParaMarielle. Please share using #JusticaParaMarielle and #MariellePresente. Let us all try to carry forward Marielle’s formidable legacy of resistance, resilience, and activism for all.
[Photo: AP Photo/Leo Correa. People shout slogans during a protest against the murder of city councillor Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, March 16, 2018.]
When Michel Temer became the president of Brazil in May of 2016, replacing the impeached Dilma Rousseff, he nominated a 23-member cabinet of all white men. His bold rejection of diversity shocked women and blacks, who had grown accustomed to at least some minimal representation in national politics.
Four months later, Marielle Franco, a black lesbian woman hailing from the Maré favela, received the fifth-most votes in the Rio de Janeiro city council elections. Her dominant win and her subsequent follow through on her promises gave hope to many Brazilians who longed for representation and had grown tired of Brazil’s corrupt and disconnected politicians.
That hope didn’t last long.
On the night of March 14, Franco, 38, was assassinated in her car after leaving a black women’s empowerment event that she had organized. Of the nine shots fired, four hit her head. Her driver, Anderson Pedro also died. The news of her death quickly spread through messaging and social media networks. According to Piauí, over the next 42 hours, Franco became the subject of more than 3.6 million tweets from 400,000 users in 54 countries and in 34 languages—more than the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff.
By the next morning, there were already vigils, and protests planned in 15 cities across Brazil. More than 20,000 people showed up in Rio de Janeiro’s Cinelandia neighborhood the night she was buried. These protests spread across the world as people in New York City, Paris and even Buenos Aires held gatherings and protests in her honour.
Although Franco had yet to enter Brazil’s divisive national politics, her assassination reverberated with people nationally and internationally. Brazil lost a politician who helped those who had long been ignored—women, the poor, and blacks. But with her death, it seems the world has gained a martyr.
“She was deep in the fight and she seemed to do it with so much compassion,” said Claudia Bernett, an American who attended the March 16 protest in New York’s Union Square. “She was blazing new paths and actively changing how women are defined and regarded—this is something I would hope to emulate in my life.”
Marielle Franco dedicated her life and political career to defending human rights. She grew up in the Maré favela, one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous and poor squatter communities. A free college-prep course led to her matriculation at one of Brazil’s elite universities, Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. There she studied social sciences and decided to pursue human rights work when one of her best friends was killed by a stray bullet during a shootout between drug dealers and police in the Maré favela.
After 10 years working in Rio’s human rights commission, she ran for city councilwoman representing the liberal Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). Her 2016 campaign, branded the Brazilian feminist color of purple, introduced 50 ideas to help women, Afro-Brazilians and the poor. When elected, she became the only black woman representative on the 51-person council and one of only seven women. Of the 19 potential laws that she introduced, two became laws.
“Her greatest victory was simply just being there and representing us,” said 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. “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.”
Her death is still being investigated, but many people think her recent denouncements of Rio de Janeiro’s police may have led to her assassination. The bullets used in her murder were from a batch bought by the Brazilian federal police in 2006. These bullets were also used in a 2015 18-person massacre in São Paulo.
As public security in Rio de Janeiro has deteriorated, Franco’s recent work focused on violence and police brutality in favelas, which disproportionately affects young black men. Human rights workers refer to this as the genocide of black people in Brazil. Afro-Brazilians make up more than 70% of the country’s murders, many at the hands of police. More than 1, 000 people were murdered by police last year throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro.
It reads: Another murder of a young man at the hands of the Policia Militar. Matheus Melo was leaving church. How many more will need to die for this war to end?
Another tweet denounced the 41st battalion of the Policia Militar, widely known as Rio de Janeiro’s most deadly police squad.
Most of the protests in the coming week will not only honour her, but also acknowledge the police violence that blacks suffer in Brazil. Franco’s assistance wasn’t limited to civilians. It was revealed that she also extended help and support to families of police who were killed in Rio de Janeiro. Rose Vieira’s son, a policeman, was killed in 2012 and she sought help from the human rights commission of Rio de Janeiro, where Franco worked for 10 years.
Most of the protests in the coming week will not only honour her, but also acknowledge the police violence that blacks suffer in Brazil.
”Just to give you an idea, Marielle did not have a car at this time,” she told Globo.com. “She wasn’t even a councilwoman. She arrived [at my house] by train. I can’t say that this person did not help me. Who would come all the way to Duque de Caxias, another city by train just to help? Only Marielle.”
Staying true to her mission to protect Rio de Janeiro’s vulnerable communities, Franco also recently became the leader of a commission that will monitor the recent federally imposed military intervention. The intervention, which aims to improve Rio’s public security, was criticised by Franco as being ineffective.
Franco and Anderson were buried on the evening of March 15. This week Franco’s supporters are planning more protests across Brazil and the world.
This article was originally published on Quartz. Cl