Thousands March In Brazil After Councilwoman is Killed

Slain Rio Councilwoman Marielle Francco.

Slain Rio Councilwoman Marielle Francco.

By Chuma Kisu

Protest marches were held across Brazil Sunday after a popular Rio City Councilwoman and her driver were shot dead by two men in what appears to have been a targeted assassination.

Marielle Franco, 38, was a groundbreaking politician who had become a voice for disadvantaged people in the favelas that are home to almost one-quarter of Rio de Janeiro’s population. Favelas are shanty homes built for the poor where grinding poverty, police brutality, and shootouts with drug gangs are routine.

Richard Nunes, Rio’s head of public security, said there would be a “full investigation” into the deaths, which came despite the military taking charge of policing in the city last month after a surge in violence.

According to reports, two men in a car fired nine shots into the vehicle carrying Franco and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes on Wednesday night. March 14, 2018. A press officer in the back seat was injured, but survived, the officials said. Both officials said it appeared Franco was targeted.

In response, thousands gathered in front of the Municipal Theater in downtown Rio de Janeiro to protest the death of Franco. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the killings, while friends, colleagues and politicians paid tribute to her.

On Thursday afternoon, crowds gathered outside Rio de Janeiro’s council chamber chanting “not one step backwards” ahead of a ceremony in honor of Franco inside. Many wept as her coffin was carried inside. The spontaneous demonstration brought together union members, feminists, leftists and residents of the city’s poorer communities.

Franco had criticized police killings. In January, 154 people were killed as a result of police action in Rio state, according to state government figures, a 57% increase from January 2017.

In February, President Michel Temer signed a decree putting the military in charge of security in Rio. An army general, Walter Braga Netto, was put in charge of public security and soldiers have carried out operations in gang-run favelas in a controversial attempt to curb rising crime.

Franco was a black single mother from the favelas in a field dominated by privileged white men. Skeptics wondered if she could get elected, yet her tally of votes was the fifth-highest of more than 50 city councilpersons.

In her brief tenure, she had become a beacon for justice on issues including racism and LGBT and women’s rights. She was an outspoken critic of the aggressive, militarized policing of the favelas, where residents live under the brutal control of drug gangs, but are also terrorized by the state military.

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