BY LOLA CAMPOS
On the night of March 14, 2018, nine shots entered the body of Brazilian politician Marielle Franco. Armed with a silencer and the impunity of the state, four police-issued bullets went straight for her head in a cold, calculated assassination.
But Franco was so much more than an elected official.
She was fearless — she was a queer Black woman who was a leading member of the Party of Socialism and Freedom. She was responsible for charging dozens of police officers who were found guilty of corruption and excessive use of force, including killings.
She was a ray of hope and a real threat for the bourgeois, white establishment that dominates Brazilian politics. In fact, her election garnered the fifth-highest number of votes, making her the only Black woman on Rio de Janeiro’s elite City Council.
Marielle came from struggle — specifically, from the Maré favela, where she became a teenage mother. She was one of only two Black women from there to be granted scholarships to attend Rio’s prestigious Pontifical Catholic University.
At the University, she studied sociology for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, authoring a thesis on police violence against the poorest and most dispossessed in Brazil: Black favela residents. She tackled state-sanctioned violence way before her time in office through positions in non-governmental organizations and academic study.
When entering the political sphere, Franco didn’t position her background as a way to tokenize herself into a position of power. She was true to her roots and was accountable to the people who elected her.
When coup President Michel Temer signed a decree granting the Brazilian military free reign and total control of Rio — the first time in the country’s history since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985 — Franco headed a commission to monitor and denounce the move.
This was one the major political campaigns she was involved in shortly before her murder. Since she was killed, thousands have poured into the streets in protest.
Protest for Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro. | Source: Mídia NINJA
Franco’s murder was more than just an act of isolated police corruption. Her murder was orchestrated to send a clear message to Brazilians: if you are a queer woman, a Black woman or a socialist, your life is disposable. If you dare to challenge our violent neoliberal state, we will end you.
Her murder exemplifies neoliberal violence in Brazil within the context of the broader right-wing political turn there since the 2016 coup that deposed former President Dilma Rousseff of the leftist Workers’ Party. Under Temer’s highly unpopular leadership, the government has enacted more austerity laws stripping workers of basic labor rights, has approved pension reforms slashing benefits for the elderly and has been involved in widespread corruption scandals.
To be clear, not one shred of proof has verified the claims of corruption committed by Rousseff or former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, including during the latter’s highly-controversial trial.
Protest for Marielle Franco in Brasilia. | Source: Mídia NINJA
The same state that wants to bulldoze the Amazon for cattle production and intensify U.S. military presence in the region is the same that placed nine bullets in Franco’s body. The vicious neoliberal state that will stop at nothing to ensure Black folks, queer folks and leftists know their place in the world order.
The homicide rate in Brazil is one of the highest in the world as well as the highest for deaths committed against LGBTQ and Black people. It is a country where military police murder hundreds of poor, Black citizens every year. So much so that some organizations accurately classify it as genocidal.
Franco stood as a defiant figure in the political landscape of Brazil. The state thought they could silence her by ordering her execution, but what they have gotten instead is a ferocious roar.
The people of Brazil are not standing idly. They stand united and more resolved than ever to put an end to the racist, homophobic and right-wing state.