January 29, 2023
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In memory of Marielle Franco

Marielle Franco was a black queer woman who grew up in Maré Favela in Rio de Janeiro. She was voted one of the city’s councilwomen in 2016 with the fifth-most votes in the race. Franco was a face and a voice for Afro-Brazilians in a government that is systematically marginalizing them — the country is currently undergoing a genocide of its black population, with 2 in 3 murder victims being Afro-Brazilian.

Marielle Franco was assassinated March 14 in her car after leaving an event that she organized for the empowerment of black women. She was targeted. Nine bullets don’t just find a car.

Reasons for her murder can only be speculated: the fact that she fought against police brutality, the fact that she questioned the status quo of gangs in favelas across the country or the fact that she was a university-educated black woman from a slum succeeding in a country that’s racism and class structure forbid any opportunity for those born in the outskirts of cities or tucked away in mountains.

Franco led what is parallel to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States in Brazil, a country whose police brutality deaths surpass the U.S. even though it has 120 million fewer citizens. From 2015 to 2016, there was a 26 percent surge in deaths in the hands of the police in Brazil.

She was defying the status quo in more ways than one. As a city councilwoman, she oversaw the women’s defense commission. Her party — the Socialism and Liberty Party — was planning to run her as a candidate for vice governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Franco was also chosen as the speaker for Rio de Janeiro’s commission, overseeing police and security forces in the city’s favelas.

What’s most tragic about this entire situation is that someone would’ve rather seen her dead than see her success and the success of thousands of Afro-Brazilians who would come after, had her career in politics not ended so abruptly. However, it does say that whoever felt threatened would rather see her dead than trust the system that’s protected them for decades. Her death shines a light on the awareness of those in power that their grasp on the mastery of marginalization is slipping.

Franco represented more than the idea that black people deserve a lot more than what they are getting in Brazil; she represented — and will continue to pose — a threat to an order that thrives on building on top of poverty and racial minorities. Her assassination will not be forgotten by those all over the world who now look up to her as a martyr.

Isabella Grullón Paz can be reached at igrullon@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @isagp23