By Samuel Stolle
On March 14, while driving back from a talk on Black female empowerment, Rio de Janeiro city councilor Marielle Franco was ambushed and shot nine times, killing her and her driver and wounding an aide. Her brazen assassination has sent shock waves throughout Brazil and beyond as it has forced Brazilians to confront serious questions of racism, corruption, and violence that speak to those elsewhere in the world.
Marielle Franco was elected in 2016 as a city councilor in Rio de Janeiro representing the Socialist and Liberty Party. According to UPI, she was an outspoken critic of police violence and the deployment of the military to police Rio’s slums. She, according to the BBC, grew up in Rio’s slums, and had been a prominent voice for those who have suffered between the police and gangs.
On the night of her death, Ms. Franco, who identified as Black, spoke to her audience on the importance of Black empowerment, continuing a theme of empowerment to which she had devoted her life. According to the Guardian, Ms. Franco grew up in Liberation Theology influenced churches and became an activist in her teens after a friend was killed in police-gang crossfire. She studied social science and public administration in college and afterwards got involved in politics to continue her activism on behalf of the disenfranchised. She became a single mother at age 19 and identified as part of Brazil’s LGBT community.
Ms. Franco’s assassination has opened an outpouring of emotion in Brazil and abroad. Within Brazil there have been a large number of protests, while in places such as the U.S. and Europe, memorials have appeared to honor her and message, according to the Washington Post.
The means and circumstances of her assassination suggest professionals are responsible. The bullets used were police issued bullets, and Ms. Franco had made herself an enemy of corruption among the police, which, according to the Washington Post, strongly suggests corrupt police may be to blame.
All of this comes in the wake of President Michel Temer’s decision to put the Brazilian military in charge of security in Rio. The murder of an outspoken city official serves to highlight the inability of the government to end the violence and has renewed criticism of the military intervention, according to Bloomberg.
Prominent figures from across the political spectrum ranging from President Temer himself, to former presidents, to national and local lawmakers, have expressed their outrage at the murder. Mr. Temer himself referred to it as “an act of cowardliness,” according to AP News.
Human Right groups have condemned Ms. Franco’s murder and along with her family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and constituents, are calling for justice to be served. In a statement issued by Amnesty International, Jurema Werneck, Amnesty International’s Brazil director, said, “The Brazilian authorities must ensure a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into this tragic killing. 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.”