Brazilians flock to mourn slain Rio councillor, rights activist

Brazilians flock to mourn slain Rio councillor, rights activist

Tens of thousands of Brazilians poured into the streets Thursday to mourn a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman, black rights activist and outspoken critic of police brutality who was shot in an assassination-style killing.

A huge crowd marched to the Rio state assembly to protest the slaying of Marielle Franco, 38, the previous day. Filling a major avenue, the crowd numbered well over 10,000 and was one of the biggest spontaneous street gatherings the city has seen for years, AFP reporters said.

Many people wore black and chanted slogans against the police, such as: “Enough killing… Time to react!”

“I’m devastated,” said one of the marchers, Ana Paula Brandao, 48. “She represented everything new that people could hope for — a black woman from the poor areas who got to where she could represent us and fought for all the big causes.”

The attack on Franco, coming despite army intervention last month to control Rio’s soaring crime rate, also sparked outrage around Latin America’s biggest country.

Some 10,000 people gathered to remember Franco in Sao Paulo and there were protests as far away as the Amazon city of Belem.

As a black lesbian who campaigned for the rights of Rio’s poorest, Franco had stood out in Rio’s male and white-dominated political scene. She was proud of her roots in Rio’s impoverished, majority black favelas and earned a name as a fierce critic of alleged police atrocities.

Late Wednesday, an attacker or attackers pulled up next to her white hatchback in Rio’s center and opened fire, hitting her several times in the head and also killing the driver and injuring an aide, then drove off.

The victims were not robbed.

President Michel Temer called it “an attack on democracy and the rule of law,” and promised full help from the federal authorities.

Amnesty International demanded a rigorous probe focusing on “the context, motive and responsibility” for the killing. The UN’s human rights office condemned “the deeply shocking murder.”

Legendary Brazilian singer Elza Soares, who is black, tweeted that this was “one of the few times when I can’t find my voice. I’m in shock. Horrified.”

Another famed Brazilian musician, Caetano Veloso, tweeted: “I am sad, so sad, very sad.”

– ‘Death Battalion’ –

Franco was born and raised in a network of favelas, or slums, called Mare, one of the city’s most violent areas.

A member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), she surprised many by winning a seat on the Rio city council in 2016.

She became a leading voice against violence meted out by Rio’s police force, which is routinely accused by major human rights organizations of extrajudicial killings, falsifying evidence and corruption.

Just a day before her death Franco blamed police for the latest shooting death of a young man in a favela, where police, shadowy militias and heavily armed drug gangs wrestle for control.

“Another killing of a young man that could be chalked up to the police,” she tweeted. “Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many more will have to die for this war to end?”

A few days earlier she tweeted about a poor neighborhood, Acari, where she said the local police unit acted as a death squad.

They’re known as “the death Battalion. They come to carve up the population! They come to kill our young!” she said.

Although police violence is widely acknowledged, there is also sympathy for a force taking extraordinarily high casualties against ruthless drug gangs: 134 officers were killed in Rio state in 2017.

– Post-Olympic blues –

Franco’s killing comes as the recent military takeover of security in Rio appears to be showing few positive results.

The city has been mired in violence for decades but the security situation has worsened dramatically since the end of the Olympic Games in 2016.

Last month, Temer ordered the military to take command of Rio city and state police.

Generals are now in charge of nearly all branches of the local security services and soldiers and heavy equipment regularly deploy to support police during sweeps of favelas, where gangs of traffickers are often in control.

The military intervention has sparked widespread concern, including from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, who said soldiers “are not specialized in public security or investigation.”

Temer issued a statement Thursday saying that Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann had discussed Franco’s killing with the general in charge of the Rio military operation, “and made the federal police available to assist.”


today in print