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Protests shake Brazil after beloved black LGBT women‘s activist killed

Marielle Franco’s death is believed to have been an assassination

Thousands have taken to the streets all over Brazil to protest the death of activist and politician Marielle Franco, who was shot to death on Wednesday in what appears to have been a cold-blooded assassination. 

The 38-year-old, who was a city councillor in Rio de Janeiro, has been immediately martyred as a symbol of the voiceless in a country which has long been suffering from the effects of structural racism and poverty.

The Associated Press reports that two men in a car fired nine shots into the car carrying Franco and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, on Wednesday evening and that a press officer in the back seat of the vehicle was injured but survived the attack. The officials they spoke to said they believed that Franco was targeted.

Franco was killed hours after holding an empowerment event for “Young Black Women Who Are Changing Power Structures”. In a speech at the event, she spoke out about police brutality and the lack of black councilwomen elected in Rio.

“I'll be there for 10 years,” she said of her post which she had held since 2016. “Or think that I'll be there for 10 years. Black, feminist popular, fighting for lesbian women, defending trans identities, speaking for followers of Africana-derived religions... When I see myself here I get very happy about my trajectory.”

Author and journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose husband was a friend and fellow councilman of Franco's, wrote in The Independent that what is particularly devastating about her death is the “how improbable and unique her trajectory” was.

“A black LGBT+ woman in a country notoriously dominated by racism, sexism and traditional religious dogma, she was raised in one of Rio’s largest, poorest and most violent slums, the Maré complex,” he wrote.

“She became a single mother at the age of 19, but graduated college, obtained a masters in sociology, and then became one of the city’s most effective human rights activists, leading often dangerous campaigns against pervasive police violence, corruption and extra-judicial murders that targeted the city’s poor, black residents with whom she grew up.”

Rio has been suffering from escalated levels of violence since the beginning of the year and in February military police intervened to “restore order”. Franco opposed the intervention and, Greenwald points out, “was a threat to so many violent, corrupt, and powerful factions that the list of possible suspects, with motives to want her dead, is a long one”.

Her death has been condemned by a variety of organisations and officials.

“This a chilling development and is yet another example of the dangers that human rights defenders face in Brazil,” said Jurema Werneck, Amnesty International’s Brazil director in a statement. “As a member of Rio de Janeiro’s State Human Rights Commission, Marielle worked tirelessly to defend the rights of black women and young people in the favelas and other marginalized communities.” 

Brazil’s former president Dilma Rousseff called Franco a “tireless social warrior” in a statement. “Sad days for a country where a human rights defender is brutally murdered,” she said.