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On the Assassination of Afro-Brazilian Activist Marielle Franco

By Scholars for Social Justice

We, Scholars for Social Justice (SSJ) express our outrage over the political assassination of Marielle Franco and Anderson Pedro Gomes, both killed on March 14, 2018 with bullets proven to belong to Brazil’s Military Police. The loss of Marielle Franco is a singular, immense and painful loss for her family, for the black community and for those interested in social justice in Brazil, and around the world. It is also a solemn reminder of the systemic nature of anti-black state violence and genocide.

Marielle Franco was a black queer woman raised in Favela da Maré in Rio de Janeiro. As a single mother, she fought to raise her daughter and to educate herself while organizing in her community and later working in human rights institutions. She was a sociologist, whose academic work mirrored her radical politics. She held an M.A. in Public Administration, where she wrote a thesis on the “pacification” of Rio’s favelas. In it, she shows brilliantly how Rio’s public security model of Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) reinforces the so-called penal state, and represses the poorest of Brazilians living in favelas. As scholar-activists, we recognize the importance and difficulty of doing this kind of critical scholarship.

Elected in 2016, Franco was a member of the left Socialism and Liberty Party and was a rising star in the party because of her strong oratorical style, her fierce defense of black women’s rights, and her commitment to improving the lives of people living in Brazil’s poor and marginalized shantytowns, or favelas. She was also outspoken in her critique of police violence, which she knew impacts black people disproportionately. Her campaign was overwhelmingly supported by the black women’s movement, which after the 2015 Black Women’s March, decided to support black women candidates in politics in order to have a voice in institutional spaces.

On March 14, Marielle was returning from an event held at a special black women-led political space called Casa das Pretas (the House of Black Women). The event, Black Women Moving Structures was transmitted live on social media and brought black women together to share experiences and to learn with elders who brought perspectives of endurance, love and hope to the struggle. The cars involved in her assassination waited outside of the event for hours as these black women talked about their lives, their strategies to navigate patriarchy and anti-blackness, and their resilience. When Marielle came out, they followed her car. After one of the cars hit the car in which she was traveling, a number of people emerged shooting her multiple times in her head and neck. She died instantly, along with her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes.

This was an execution.

Marielle’s death came just a month after President Michel Temer orchestrated a federal military takeover of security in Rio de Janeiro. This intervention was denounced by scholars and activists throughout the country. Marielle was one of the most vocal opponents to this, as well as prior attempts to further militarize marginalized neighborhoods in Brazil. Just days before her murder, she was appointed the head of a city-level commission charged with accompanying the federal takeover of security in Rio.

This was just the latest in a broader authoritarian turn by the Brazil’s interim federal government. It takes place in a country whose police kill more people than perhaps any other presumably democratic nation. In 2016, for example, the police were responsible for the deaths of 4,224 civilians. These numbers are only the ones that make it into official counts, not those killed by police-adjacent death squads, those that are disappeared, those that remain unreported. To put these statistics in perspective, this was four times the number of people killed by police in the United States – a country with a much larger population – the same year.

Just two days after the deaths of Marielle and Anderson, another four people were killed in Complexo do Alemão, among them a one-year old baby. This is just the last of these all too common tragedies. In many cases, the reporting of these brutal state-sanctioned murders continues to misrepresent the nature of violence in these communities, which includes endemic police brutality, political corruption, impunity and the complacency of the criminal system.

We would like to express our deepest condolences to the families of Marielle and Anderson, and our solidarity with Brazil’s black movement, the black women’s movement and to progressive forces that are continuing to resist in such dark times in Brazil.

To summarize:
• The presidential decree authorizing the army to take control of public security has opened the door to further and widespread violence against, and the violation of the human rights of, black faveladas and favelados. We demand an end to the military intervention in Rio de Janeiro.

• We are encouraged by the Federal Government’s forming of a Federal Commission charged with investigating these murders. However, we demand that the government give this commission all resources and legal reach to fully investigate this execution, no matter where that investigation ends.

• We will remain vigilant as the investigation unfolds and demand that the Brazilian federal government take swift action once it receives a report from the federal commission investigating the execution of Marielle Franco and Anderson Pedro Gomes.

• We are deeply concerned about the authoritarian turn in Brazil, which was a direct result of the coup that ended in the ouster of former president Dilma Rousseff. We demand the reestablishment of democracy and the respect for human rights in Brazil more generally. We are deeply concerned about the authoritarian turn in Brazil in recent months, and particularly, the escalating violence against social activists in Brazil. Marielle’s death remind us that while human rights may be precarious in general in Brazil today, black and poor people feel the brunt of this disturbing trend.

As we reaffirm SSJ’s commitment to global social justice and human rights, we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the favela, in the streets and in academia in Brazil. Those who brutally assassinated Marielle Franco tried to silence the voices of black women, the voices of the black community, and the voices of people working against anti-black state violence, sexism, classism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.

We will not be silenced.

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