City councillor and human rights advocate, Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, were shot dead in a car in the Central Region of Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday night around 9:30 p.m. local time.
Franco, a longtime critic of police brutality in Rio’s favelas and a prominent voice for black Brazilians who are the country’s most impoverished, was leaving a black women’s empowerment conference when killed.
“A politician, a council person who also happened to have been an activist … [and] engage in activism for at least the past ten years. Hard core, fighting for her people, was literally gunned down, assassinated, shot nine times while she was in her car,” says social justice lawyer Nana Gyamfi who lives in Los Angeles, but frequents Brazil to study martial art, Capoeira, and convene with several members of a global network of activists.
Since the reports of Franco’s death, mourners and protesters fill the streets of Brazil to express outrage.
For many, the killing of Franco was the violence she spoke against. Telesur news reports that the Congressional representative of Brazil’s Workers’ Party, Wadih Dumas, posted on Twitter that Franco’s death was “a plot forged by the barbaric nature that has taken hold of Brazil.”
Historically, Afro-Brazilians endured police terrorism against gross inequalities on every institutional level. As well, they carry a legacy of resistance.
More recently, black power movements from Rio to Bahia show a growing push from younger Brazilians who are underemployed, represent the high numbers of incarcerated citizens and live in gross poverty. At the same time, the country’s most disenfranchised fight for some type of policy that protects non-whites and poor from generations of discrimination and segregated practices.
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“Brazil is one of the most racist countries in the world,” says Gyamfi. “We’re talking about a country in which people went out in the streets in force to protest and lift up what is happening to black folks. What is happening to poor folks and people were shot at by [cops in] helicopters.”
Last night, Brazilian #WHRD #MarielleFranco and her driver were assassinated by gunmen in #Rio. Marielle was known for her work to expose #policebrutality and #stateviolence in favelas. We stand in solidarity and demand #JusticaParaMarielle. Rest in power, Marielle. pic.twitter.com/iIPoiCG7bD
— JASS-Just Associates (@jass4justice) March 15, 2018
Franco makes the third high-profile death of a black or indigenous woman in Latin America in the last two years.
In January 2017, authorities discovered the beheaded body of Emilsen Manyoma, an Afro-Columbian activist who tackled environmental, economic and human rights issues in the jungle right outside the coastal city of Buenaventura. Before then, in March 2016, Honduran indigenous activist and environmentalist, Berta Cáceres was killed by gunmen who forced themselves into her home a week after she voiced opposition against the building of a power plant. For both murders, no arrests were made or suspects identified.