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Marielle Franco Assassinated, Brazil Erupts in Protest of Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman’s Death

Marielle Franco, a Black Brazilian anti-police violence activist and Rio city councilor, was assassinated on March 14, 2018, in downtown Rio de Janeiro, along with her driver. Two gunmen fired nine bullets into their car. Franco, who grew up in one of the city’s most impoverished favelas, was a vocal critic of the military takeover of police in Rio. (photo: Twitter)

The Black and poor populations of Brazil are in protest following the execution-style killing of Marielle Franco, 38, a Black city councilwoman, activist, and critic of police violence. Franco was shot to death in an apparent assassination. According to police, two men in a car fired nine shots into the politician’s vehicle, killing her and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes on Wednesday night, as the Associated Press reported. Fernanda Chaves, a press officer sitting in the back seat in the back seat survived her injuries, officials said, noting the councilwoman apparently was targeted.

Just a few days ago, Franco had tweeted about an alleged case of police violence: “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?”

One of the few Black women politicians in Brazil, Franco was elected in 2016 as a member of the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party or PSOL, a member of the LGBT community who beat the odds and received the fifth-highest vote count in that election. She was a resident of one of the most impoverished communities in Rio known as the favela da Maré, and became known for her social work in the country’s poorest and violence-impacted communities. Franco was a source of pride and hope particularly for Black youth and women, as she fought against the people in power on behalf of the neglected people of the favelas.

One of the most vocal critics of the police and the aggressive tactics they employ in the slums, Franco was recently appointed to a city commission to monitor President Michel Temer’s military intervention in Rio, which placed the military in charge of the city’s police force. The councilwoman opposed the move to militarize policing functions in the city.

Human rights groups condemned the killing of the human rights defender and called for investigation. The United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva condemned the “deeply shocking murder of a well-known human rights defender” and called for a “thorough, transparent and independent” investigation as soon as possible.

“The Brazilian authorities must ensure a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into this tragic killing,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “The State must protect witnesses and survivors, identify the motive for Marielle’s murder and bring the culprits to justice. The government cannot stand by and let human rights defenders be killed with impunity.”

“Marielle was an outspoken and courageous advocate for victims of police abuse and a tireless defender of the rights of women and Afro-Brazilians,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “Brazilian authorities need to respond decisively by identifying those responsible for the killing of Marielle and Anderson, and bringing them to justice.”

“The climate of near total impunity in Rio de Janeiro needs to end once and for all,” Canineu added. “Marielle and Anderson are the latest victims of a security system that has long failed to stop violence, or to ensure justice for the victims.”

Black Brazil is in mourning, as vigils and protests are held throughout the country in remembrance of the fallen councilor, with hashtags such as #MarielleFranco, #MariellePresente and #NãoFoiAssalto (“It wasn’t a robbery”) trending on Twitter.

Police violence is a human rights crisis in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro. Police killed 1,035 people in Rio state in 2017,  more than 900 people in 2016 — a year in which the city had a total of 5,000 homicides — and 645 people in 2015. According to Human Rights Watch, Rio police have killed over 8,000 people over the past decade. Further, while police are responsible for one fifth of all homicides in Rio, three quarters of those killed by police are Black men.  “Police officers involved in these unlawful killings routinely seek to cover up their criminal behavior. They threaten witnesses. They plant guns on their victims. They remove corpses from crime scenes and deliver them to hospitals, claiming they were trying to ‘rescue’ them,” said a report from the organization. The report also found that the Rio state attorney general’s office sought indictments in only four of 3,441 police killings that took place between 2010 and 2015.

The majority-Black nation of Brazil, whose most marginalized people are victimized by gang violence and police violence, are searching for answers. This, as one of the country’s most vocal human rights defenders was taken from them in a targeted assassination.

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