Brazil, March 14 2019. Exactly one year ago today, on March 14, 2018, Marielle Franco, a city councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro, was murdered. Woman, black, bisexual, and raised in Favela da Maré, her presence challenged and frightened a political system that has always been white, masculine, and heteronormative. For this reason, she was the expression of everything that the extremely conservative wave that has grown in Brazil during the past years wants to destroy.
Ms. Franco who was 38 years old and was killed with four shots in her head, ran for the election for the first time in the 2016, when she was the fifth-most voted for candidate for the City Council in Rio de Janeiro, with 46.502 votes. Her murder took place in her car, just a few minutes after she had participated in a talk group called “Black Young Women: Moving Structures” at Casa das Pretas (Black Women’s House), a collective space for black women in Rio de Janeiro downtown. Anderson Gomes, Marielle’s driver that was with her, was also killed that night.
Before being a councilwoman, Marielle was the coordinator of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro. In this role, she provided legal and psychological support to family members of homicide victims and police officers who were killed or injured on duty.
In the year of her death, Rio de Janeiro was under federal military intervention, which was justified as necessary to contain urban violence. Marielle warned that the intervention would mean spreading violence on the bodies of the people who lived in the favelas. She made City Council a stage for denouncing the deaths of black youth in the favelas. A day before her death, as she denounced a homicide committed by the Rio de Janeiro Military Police against a young black man, she asked: “How many more people must die for this war to end?”
The Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders has considered Marielle’s murder as the most evident expression of the violence that seeks to silence and intimidate those who defend human rights in Brazil. In fact, her death reveals not only the intimidating environment for human rights defenders, but it also expresses the political disengagement of the Brazilian State towards the black, women, and LGBTI + lives, as confirmed by the brutality with which Marielle Franco, who had little more than one year as a councilwoman, was assassinated.
This week, one year after her death, two people were arrested: a retired sergeant and a former police officer. The authorities say that there it took them three months to plan her murder and that Marielle was executed for her political convictions, that is, for daring to occupy a political space that has never been committed to the lives of black, poor, LGBTI+ people and to report the violence perpetrated against these lives. Although the arrests constitute an important step, the main question remains unanswered: Who ordered Marielle Franco’s murder? Why?
If the assassination of Marielle was an attempt to silence the voice of those who, like her, fight for freedom and equality for all the people who suffer due to the multiple consequences of racism, machismo and lgbtphobia, this attempt has failed. As the Mexican proverb says: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
The Interantional Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) believes that today, one year after her death, Marielle Franco’s struggle for freedom and equality continues to flourish. We join all those who want to build a world in which LGBTI+, black people, and women can live in dignity and prosper.
Race and Equality calls on the Brazilian State to continue advancing in the criminal investigation of Marielle’s murder, in order to prosecute not only the material perpetrators of the crime, but also the intellectual authors of the crime. Authorities must also establish the motives and interests served behind the homicide. We also request the Brazilian State to adopt measures that will make it possible to compensate the effect that this homicide had on the voices of the most excluded and violated communities of the country.