Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of Marielle Franco’s brutal murder. Black, queer, born and raised in the favelas, and a single mother since 18, Marielle was a city councilmember from Rio de Janeiro who used her platform to fiercely champion LGBT and women’s rights in Brazil — intersectional advocacy built from intersectional experience. Her murder on the evening of March 14, 2018 was a brazen reminder to many Brazilians that no matter how accomplished, high-profile, or beloved by the people, Black and queer lives are expendable; their killers can act with impunity. One woman aptly captured the collective consciousness of Brazilian women after Marielle’s murder: "They did not just kill her, but all of us, all black women... they killed our hope."
Many activists saw in Marielle’s assassination a clear message aimed at Black people, feminists, and lesbians to "know their place" and not enter public life claiming full citizenship. Indeed, that message reverberated across Brazil during the past year as the investigation of her murder dragged on without any concrete results, while prominent activist groups around the world — and even the United Nations — called for a thorough and transparent investigation. But incremental progress arrived last Tuesday, albeit long overdue. Brazilian police arrested former military police officers Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, whom prosecutors say executed the drive-by assassination one year ago. These arrests are a first step towards dismantling the culture of rampant impunity for violent crimes in Brazil, crimes that disproportionately take the lives of black women. The homicide rate among Black women was 71% higher than that of non-Black women as of 2016. There are indications that this crisis is getting worse, not better; indeed, while there was an 8% decrease in murders of non-Black women over a ten-year period ending in 2016, the number of murders of Black women increased 15.4%. Despite this rise, in 2015, prosecutors filed charges in only 12% of homicide cases, the results of which cannot even be interrogated because Brazilian courts do not regularly publish such data; we cannot quantify the problem, let alone redress it.
As the investigation now turns to how Marielle’s assassination was ordered, we must not forget what her assassination illustrated. Marielle grew up in one of the poorest and most dangerous slum complexes in Rio; she earned her way to one of Rio’s most prestigious universities on a full scholarship; she ran for city council on a campaign that embodied an inclusive and intersectional ethos: lifting up black women, LGBT, and favela youth; and she received the fifth highest number of votes out of more than 1,500 candidates. She then used her platform to consistently speak out against state violence and on behalf of her community’s most marginalized. For doing so, she paid with her life.
Marielle served on the same investigative committee monitoring militia activity in Rio (which led to the indictments of 67 police officers) as Marcelo Freixo, Marielle’s long-time mentor and now a federal deputy. Investigators found that Lessa had been monitoring both Marielle and Freixo’s day-to-day schedule for three months prior to her murder. In the end, it was Marielle — the only black woman and just one out of seven women in the 51-member city council — who was killed for standing up against injustice. As Brazilian Samba vocalist Elza Soares sang, “A carne mais barata do mercado é a carne negra.” (“The cheapest meat on the market is black meat.”)
We must not forget Marielle’s legacy. Outrage over Marielle’s murder inspired an unprecedented number of black female candidates to run for office explicitly adopting Marielle’s platform; and last October, Brazilians voted them into office. One of those elected was Marielle’s former chief of staff, Renata Souza. In this way, while Marielle’s assassination was a horrific and devastating event, her legacy lives on through those she inspired, and through the conversations that persist, not only in Brazil but here in the United States. America, like Brazil, suffers from intersectional violence not held to account. In this way, Marielle’s legacy is not geographically bound; rather, she lives on not only through Brazilian intersectional advocacy, but American projects demanding justice for rampant and often overlooked state violence against black women.