In spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that half its population claims African descent, a rigid racial caste system remains entrenched in Brazil. In a major step towards addressing this inequality, March 14 has been designated “Marielle Franco Day – a day against the genocide of the Black woman” to commemorate the activist/politician murdered on that date earlier this year.
Signed into law by Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezão, the ruling encourages debate and lectures on the treatment of Black women across the South American nation.
Franco was shot to death this past March 14, as she left a meeting for “Jovens Negras Movendo Estruturas’ (Young Black Women for Change) in central Rio, the nation’s capital. A city councilor in that city’s Municipal Chamber, she rose from the notorious “favelas (Portuguese for slum) to become a leading advocate against gender violence, police brutality, unsanctioned killings, and LGBTQ rights.
She and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, were riddled with bullets from another car. Both were killed while Franco’s press officer survived. Rio de Janeiro assembly member Marcelo Freixo arrived on the scene shortly after, and determined that the incident bears all the hallmarks of a targeted assassination. The 9mm ammunition that killed her was traced to a munition shipment bought by federal police in 2006, and used in another shooting in August 2015. In this incident, 23 people (many with criminal records) were slaughtered in and around the southeastern city of São Paulo, in the wake of the unsolved killings of two policemen.
Brazil has the highest absolute number of murders in the world – accounting for 1 in every 10 murders globally, according to the World Economic Forum (https://www.weforum.org).
Identifying as bisexual, Franco was elected to the city council in 2016 and quickly became an icon for human rights nationwide and aboard, reaching the pinnacle of celebrity, identifiable to supporters by her first name only. In the wake of her death, thousands of demonstrators from the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party she belonged to, wore badges with the label “Marielle, Presente (Murielle is here),” indicating that her struggle will continue in spite of her demise.
“(Franco’s Murder) is really a signal of the climate of impunity,” declared senior Human Rights Watch researcher Cesar Muñoz. “They think they can get away with it.”
“Three months have gone by since Marielle was brutally taken from us, and we are no closer to knowing who killed her and why. This lack of justice is unbearable for her loved ones, those who worked beside her and other human rights defenders who are looking over their shoulder in fear,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil.
Globally a vast contingent of celebrities and others have voiced solidarity with the slain activist on a website dedicated to her memory,
The list includes civil rights activists Patrisse Cullors (founder of Black Lives Matter), Angela Davis, and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson; fashion model Naomi Campbell; filmmakers Ava Duvernay and Oliver Stone; film stars Pamela Anderson, Danny Glover, Rashida Jones, and Thandie Newton; journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates , and singer-songwriter Janelle Monae.
On July 24, authorities arrested two men, a former fireman and a policeman, in connection with the Franco homicide.