On March 14th, 2018, one of Brazil’s strongest voices in the fight for equal rights was assassinated in her car along with her driver on the way home from an event to empower young black women in Rio de Janeiro. Marielle Franco had just been elected the city councilor of Rio de Janeiro 18 months prior to her death. At 38 years old, Franco was the only black female representative on the 51-member council, and one of seven women (The New York Times, 2018). She broke boundaries as a black, gay, single mother from the Maré favela, and who, despite the odds, found herself successful in a political system where she was a part of a very small minority. Her humble beginnings inspired her to fight for human rights, emerging as a strong opponent to the extreme inequality and police violence in Rio. Ilona Szabó, executive director of the Igarapé Institute explained that Franco “broke barriers that many black women in the periphery thought were intractable… She represented hope for so many women who never felt like they had a voice” (The New York Times, 2018). The astounding way Franco was able to bring together women, feminists, and residents of some of Brazil’s poorest communities even after her death shows that her legacy will live on.
Franco’s work as council member was met by a large opposition. Just a few weeks prior to her death, Brazilian president Michel Temer had signed a decree to increase the military presence across Brazil, aiming to make the country’s cities safer. Franco was a strong opponent to the new decree, worried that it would increase violence due to the police culture in Rio. Just this past January, government officials report that 154 people were killed by police in the State of Rio. Franco opposed the conservative, mostly-white, male politicians in Rio, whose policies often did not, she argued, represent the largest demographic of Brazil: black, mixed-race, or female, and traditionally under-represented. Following her assassination, hundreds of thousands of people took to twitter with the hashtag #MarielleFrancoPresente, refusing to forget the work that she had done for Brazil (Ramaswamy, 2018).
The day following Franco’s death, thousands of protestors gathered in the Maré favela to march along the Avenida Brasil, one of the main streets in the city. Protestors were full of sadness and frustration with the murder of the councilwoman. Jefferson Barbosa, a communications student who had worked with Franco, expressed his indignation at her murder. “She was a symbol of the politics we believe in, I have never been so scared. People are shocked with what happened. They did this to Mari, one of the most popular lawmakers in Rio. What will stop them doing this to others?” (Phillips, 2018). Similar feelings are shared by Brazilians all over the country, evident as hundreds of thousands of Twitter users everywhere tweeted about Franco, climbing it to a higher social media presence than Dilma Rouseff, ex-President of Brazil, during her impeachment (Ramaswamy, 2018).
Officials say that Franco’s murder was clearly an execution. Two police officers and a municipal guard were convicted of the murders, and investigators have found that the manner in which Franco was killed is evident of a professional due to the grouping of the bullets (King, 2018). Her car was hit by nine bullets, four of which hit her skull, instantly killing her. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, was also killed in the assassination. A press officer in the back of the car was injured but survived the attack. Killings like these were supposed to be prevented by the new surge of military recently implemented. Although Franco is the first politician to be murdered by police forces in 2018, she had suggested that the murder of a man earlier in the week was a result of police violence. Rio’s head of public security, Richard Nunes, assured that there will be a full investigation into the deaths (Phillips, 2018).
Franco’s murder came as a blow to everyone who fights for human rights and justice. Human Rights organizations all over the world such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as conservative and liberal politicians alike condemned the attack, expressing their surprise and disgust to the media (Phillips, 2018). Her shocking death is a symbol of everything she fought to change in Brazil. Protests being held all over the country serve as a reminder of Franco’s values and legacy. Those close to her remember her life and all of the good that she achieved in her short time in office. Journalism student and activist Daiene Mendes remembers Franco as “More than a friend, Marielle was a symbol of our biggest conquests. A woman like us, black, from the favela, who had a lot of strength to face the institutional challenges of the politics that always kept us distant” (Phillips, 2018). Despite Franco’s death, her ideas and inspiration will continue to live on in those that she gave her life to defend— and perhaps they are the people who say it best. “Marielle and Anderson present today and always.”