By Keisha Mitchell
Council Woman, Activist, Educator, and Feminist Marielle Franco was born in July of 1972 in one of Brazil’s most notorious favelas, Mare ́. Her birthplace initiated her as one of the 1.5 million who call themselves “People of the Hill” a term given to the residents of the sprawling structures situated on the faces of
the small mountains across the country.
The settlements have a long history that begin with the com- munities first formed by Africans after slavery in the late 1800s. Later, gentrification pushed Afro Brazilians out of the country’s “downtown” and many migrants found themselves in Rio searching for employment between the 1930s and 1940s. Though favelas had been declared illegal in 1937, it didn’t stop the flux of families and individuals taking up their small plot within the maze of homes long after the ruling nor did isolation of Brazil’s darkest Brothers and Sisters stop them from persecution or the pitfalls of poverty.
This social petri dish incubated a young Marielle’s sense of awareness and prompted her to begin working to save for college at the age of 11. Throughout her youth, she continued to bear witness to the injustices that were inherent to her community and became inspired to make an impact. This inspiration was amplified in 2000, when a friend of Francos’ was slain by a stray bullet, prompting Franco to fully engage herself as a Human Rights’ Activist. In 2007, not long after she received a formal degree in Social Sciences leading to a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the prestigious Fluminense Federal University, she began working as a consultant and coordinated her first major contribution to Brazil’s infrastructure reform: the state legislatures’ “Committee for the Defense of Human Rights and Citizenship. This program and the few others Franco implemented during her time as
a local organizer set the stage for her to rise to prominence both publicly and politically. Her dazzling ascension, unfortunately also se the stage for an ominous, swift fall.
In 2016, Franco ran for a seat on Rio de Janeiro’s city council with a platform that positioned her as both an advocate and guardian of Brazil’s poor black women and those who lived within the Favelas. In a historic feat, Franco easily took over 45,000 votes, making her one of 51 official elect- ed representative and the 5th highest voted candidate out of 1500 nominees. Her Blackness, queerness, and boldness, while certainly celebrated by the multitudes of citizens who finally saw themselves represented in the halls of government, equally ruffled the feathers of others, including Brazil’s own soon-to-be President Jair Bolsonaro. Marielle Franco didn’t let that deter her and quickly got to work on transforming the institutions that she had promised to mold. She worked tirelessly against gendered violence, and for reproductive rights, Franco partnered with the Rios’ “Lesbian Front” to propose a Lesbian Day of Visibility. She created and acted as Chair of the “Women’s Defense Commission” as well as sat on a comments’ policing of favelas in Rio De Janeiro.
This last act of solidarity with the disenfranchised Black
Brazilians who often saw themselves caught in crossfires be- tween Authorities and Cartels as well often made casualties due to police brutality was not welcomed by those on the Rio tasks forces, neither was it appreciated by many of her fel- low Councilmen. The difference of political opinions came to a head on March 13th of 2018, after the shooting death of Matheus Melo. Franco wrote on Twitter “Mais um homicídio de um jovem que pode estar entrando para a conta da PM. Matheus Melo estava saindo da igreja. Quantos mais vão precisar morrer para que essa guerra acabe?:
Another homicide of a young man that could be credited to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. “How many others will have to die for this war to end?”
The next day Franco attended a roundtable aptly titled “Young Black Women Moving [Power] Structures. Less than 2 hours after leaving the event, Franco and her driver were gunned down in a spray of 9 bullets. The execution, which happened at a stoplight when another car pulled up beside Francos and immediately shot 7 of the bullets into Francos seat and two at her Driver, sent both chills and shockwaves through the communities Franco had sworn to protect.
For the next year, sordid details of the weapons and the motive used against Franco sprang to life in every direction. What ended up being substantial was the origin of the bullets used to take Franco’s life: they were purchased from the Brazilian Federal Police in 2006. In early 2019, police investigated two suspects who had close ties to Jair Bolsonaro, and had even been formally recognized by Bolsonaro in the early 2000s. The investigation proved inconclusive, and shortly after in March of the same year, arrests were made of two suspects who were prior members of the Military Police. One of the men, was Jair Bolsonaro’s neighbor. To date, no further developmenets have been made despite general push from Franco’s supporters.Though cowardly Political Rivals unjustly snuffed MariElle Franco’s brilliant flame, her passion and love for her community -and they’re pride and love of her-can never be extinguished. Since Francos’ death, 3 more Afro Brazilian Women have been elected as Council Women continuing the historic precedent set by Marielle.
Though many in the favelas have accepted that they will likely never uncover the truth of who assassinated Marielle Franco, many have dedicated their own lives to keeping her memory alive through taking care of one another and championing the the causes of those closest to her heart, “The People of the Hill”.