The F Word: What Marielle Franco's Death Means For Human Rights in Brazil

A black lesbian leftist, child of the favelas, was gunned down, in public, probably by an agent of the state.


Favela families die daily. Crammed together in poorly constructed homes, on never-invested in streets, if the poverty doesn’t get you, violence or  depression might. From the favelas on Rio’s mountainsides, you can actually see Rio’s multi-million dollar beach fronts. Poverty and depression and violence claim favela people all the time. So increasingly, do cops.

In 2017, police killed over 1,000 people just in Rio. The poorer you are the more danger you’re in. In the last few years the Brazilian establishment’s been making lots of choices to  invest in real estate, Olympics, corporate tax breaks, but not education, healthcare, public service. To deal with unrest, the current government’s invested in repression; costly drones, Israeli military police trainers, the military itself. Now soldiers patrol the streets.

Black people, are killed with impunity. LGBT people? More LGBT people are murdered per year in Brazil than anyplace else on earth.

So a black lesbian killed in Rio isn’t generally a headline getter. And this one was a leftist.  Just hours before her death Marielle Franco, a city council member  was at an event about the oppression of young black women. On her way home, a car pulled up next to hers, someone fired nine shots and drove off. Nothing was stolen. The bullets that struck Franco and her body guard we now know were army issued bullets.

What’s unusual was that woman: A black lesbian child of the favelas, Franco had graduated college, actually medical school, in a country where black med students are virtually nonexistent. She’d joined a party and gotten involved in left politics - even gotten herself elected,  when all sorts of people were giving up on democracy. Even progressive politicians had gone along with austerity. The last popularly elected government was ousted with a lot of help from American inspired right wing media, and politicians, and judges, and corporations.

Marielle Franco was an exception. Exceptional, from what I can tell, in just about every respect.

What else is exceptional? The response  to her murder. Half a million marched in Rio the day after her assassination. Millions more have marched in Brazil, and around the world since. It’s hard to remember ever, a time that so many have mourned and celebrated the black lesbian feminist socialist politician, ever, anywhere. In Paris, Madrid, New York, you name it people have gathered in front of the embassies. I have.

Not usual. a black lesbian feminist who loved the wretched on the earth  — as one friend of mine put it, she loved people and people loved her! And her courage has infected ours. Long may she  and we keep it up.

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