Brazilians Mourn the Assassination of Beloved Activist, Marielle Franco
A beloved Brazilian activist who fought against police brutality and the oppression of indigenous, LGBT and other minorities was gunned down two weeks ago and many think the Brazilian government pulled the trigger.
On the night of March 14, Brazilian politician and activist Marielle Franco was returning from an event titled “Jovens Negras Movendo Estruturas” (Young Black Women Changing Structures) when she was brutally gunned down in what appears to be a targeted assassination; the apparent assassination is most likely a form of retaliation against Franco’s courageous and unfaltering opposition to unfair and violent police tactics against the people of Brazil. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, was also killed in the attack.
Franco had been exposing Brazilian police force brutality the very night she was assassinated by suggesting that the recent killing of 23-year-old Matheus Melo was orchestrated by Brazilian police.
In a tragic turn of events, it seems that Franco met the same fate as Melo at the hands of a corrupt system determined to silence opposition views.
According to activist and political theorist Priscila Carvalho, who was interviewed for this article, Franco’s murder illustrates the present threat to oppressed groups, not just in the favelas, but in the country as a whole.
“Her murder is tied not only to the brutality in the favelas, but also to brutality against indigenous and peasant activists, and brutality against LGBT people who are killed or threatened continuously in the country. Violence stems from acts and omissions in the justice system,” says Carvalho.
Was Marielle Franco gunned down by a trained professional killer?
Many Brazilians have the opinion that Franco’s murder was a targeted assassination by a trained professional killer. After tailing Franco’s vehicle for two and a half miles, nine shots were fired into the vehicle, with four lodging directly into Franco’s skull; all of these factors indicate that this crime was either orchestrated by highly-trained security forces or professional hitmen.
Further pointing to the culpability of Brazilian government forces is the fact that 9 mm bullets were found at the scene of the crime. This caliber bullet is not available to the general Brazilian public, and also appears to come from a batch that was originally sold to Brazilian military police.
Activists claim police killed 1,000 civilians in Rio de Janeiro in 2017
Police brutality has been an issue in Brazil for decades, but in recent years, the number of deaths at the hands of police forces has been rising at a disturbing rate.
Activists state that police forces killed over 1,000 civilians in 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, and the actual amount could be far higher. Official figures stating the death toll of civilians at the hands of law enforcement in all of Brazil have reached higher than 4,220 deaths, an increase of over 27 percent from 2016. As is the case in the United States, the victims of these police offenses are almost always impoverished people of color.
As the situations in large cities such as Rio de Janeiro have gotten far more difficult for the government to control, politicians have responded by increasing police presence in the favelas, and even deploying the military as security forces in Rio de Janeiro, a move that was questioned by Franco and many others at both a national and international level, including the United Nations.
Many citizens, along with military officials, criticized the government’s decisions to deploy military forces as security, saying that issues of poverty and violence must be fixed at a policy level before any additional police or military intervention can have any positive effect.
Carvalho explains that military intervention is but a symptom of a larger, underlying problem. “There is a militarist, repressive, logic that is socially accepted. The military intervention in Rio is socially accepted based on a fear of the spread of violence,” she explains.
Franco’s death has mobilized activists in Brazil, and marches and protests have been taking place across the country supporting Franco’s struggle for the rights of people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and other victims of oppression in South America’s largest country. Though the majority of Brazilians have some degree of African ancestry, Afro-Brazilians are severely underrepresented at all levels of government, a troubling fact that Marielle Franco was trying to change both through her outspoken activism and the political office she held as a city councilwoman.
Further, despite having a relatively large LGBTQ population and legal recognition for same-sex marriages, Brazil still is far from a haven for LGBTQ individuals. Some activists state that more LGBTQ people are killed in Brazil than anywhere else in the world, and while it is difficult to prove this statistic because many of these deaths go unreported, one cannot deny that a tremendous amount of homophobia is present in Brazil. The number of deaths attributed to homophobia rose 30 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to Brazilian watchdog organization Grupo Gay da Bahia.
Marielle Franco’s opponents target her character too
Unfortunately, almost immediately after Franco was murdered, her opponents began attempting to assassinate her character as well. Brazil has one of the highest rates of social media use of any country in the world, and right-wing politicians and organizations have been exploiting this medium among other traditional routes in order to spread negative accusations against Franco, the majority of which seem to be completely untrue.
Franco represented three of the groups most targeted by law enforcement in Brazil: she was black, openly gay, and comes from the favela of Maré. As a politician and activist, Franco never stopped fighting for the rights of these groups, and she paid the ultimate price for being an outspoken defender of groups that the Brazilian government would rather eliminate than recognize.