She was a black woman from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous slums. She was gay, a feminist, and a mother. She was educated, holding a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and a master’s degree in public administration. She was elected as a Rio de Janeiro city council member in 2016 – her first time running for office. She fought for human rights and spoke out about police violence in Rio’s slums. She was 38 years-old.
She was Marielle Franco.
And on March 14 2018, she was murdered.
She had just left an event in Rio de Janeiro about young black women, which she posted about on her Twitter and Facebook profiles, when she and her driver were shot and killed in the car they were in.
News of her death sent shockwaves not only across Brazil and Latin America but across the world, as international human rights organizations condemned her murder and fellow Brazilian politicians paid tribute.
The investigation of her death is ongoing, and if her death is related to her work in denouncing police violence is still uncertain.
What is certain, however, is that Brazil lost a symbol of its new era: an era in which someone who embodies the country’s long-oppressed and ignored minorities – black, female, gay – can represent so many Brazilians, and be recognised as worthy of a place of power in politics.
Just days before her murder, on the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Franco spoke out about violence against women during a meeting at Rio’s city council. She was also outspoken about her experiences with racial discrimination in Brazil. As a politician, she pushed for better access to legal abortions and reproductive rights, especially for black women (since, as Franco pointed out, black women are the majority of victims of rape, and abortion is legal in Brazil under that circumstance), and against police violence in the slums of Rio. There are countless examples of her life’s dedication to defending human rights in all their intersectionality.
She represented an exception to Brazil’s political landscape, but if the massive gatherings of people protesting her murder and celebrating her life serve as a glimpse into the future, she won’t be the last gay, black, or female person to be elected to represent the people of Brazil.
As the viral hashtag #MariellePresente alludes to, her legacy remains alive and present, and will do so for a long time to come.