The Black community is mourning. Again. I do not even have to name the persons this article is about. We could very much fill in the blanks. Try not to feel numb by the end of this.
Not less than a month ago, members of the police in Sacramento, California shot and killed an unarmed black man named Stephon Clark in his backyard when mistaking his cell phone for a gun. The police first claimed Clark was running from them, using that and his "weapon" for justification for firing at him 20 times. Allegedly, Clark moved towards them, and fearing for their lives, police proceeded to shoot. However, it has been learned that Clark wasn't running from them; he was trying to cut through his neighborhood to get home quickly. To make things much worse- at no point did police identify themselves as such. Officers yelled at him to raise and show his hands, announced he had a gun and began to riddle his body with bullets. Then they handcuffed him. Only until after breath leaves, Stephon Clark's body do officers cuff him.
4,537 miles away, chants of Marielle Franco's name could be heard. From the hood to favelas, Blackness is under siege for apparently the most striking crime- being Black.
Marielle Franco was a Black political activist and all-around badass. She was 38, Afro-Latina, woman, and queer. The rights of women were at the forefront of her agenda. A Rio de Janeiro native, Franco recently had made the accomplishment many activists desire, she crossed into politics becoming a councilwoman to represent the Maré area. A favela, (the Brazilian equivalent to a ghetto) Maré was filled with mostly Black working class folks. Franco was also champion for the poor. She understood more correctly than most that race, gender, and class were part of the many ugly prongs of oppression, and that one could not be adequately fought against without challenging the others. She regularly denounced the brutality exhibited by police in favelas- something that many of her supporters fear cost her life.
On March 14th, around 9 in the evening, heavily gunmen murdered Franco while she was in her car in the middle of Rio with a total of 9 shots. Four were in the head. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes died as well. Marielle Franco was assassinated just after leaving her organized event, an event focusing on the empowerment of Black women.
Groups like Amnesty International (who have been very vocal against the evident genocide of Afro-Latina in Brazil) have asked that Franco's death is thoroughly investigated. It is saddening to think, however, that had it not been for Franco's profile as an activist, her death would not have received the same level of attention. Dead Black bodies are not an anomaly in Brazil. A little over half of the population in Brazil identify as Black. Every 2 out of 3 people murdered in Brazil are Black Brazilians. 2 out of 3. Black women account for most of that number.
Marielle Franco was an extraordinary woman. She fought on so many fronts and broke so many windows and ceilings. For Afro-Latinx people, this woman showed that they were capable of reaching high places. For the poor, she represented dignity and grace. For women, Marielle Franco posed the ultimate example of what Machismo fears- a strong woman. Poor Afro-Latinx women in Brazil are on the receiving end of Brazil's violence, anti-blackness, and misogyny.
Lua Nascimento, an Afro-Brazilian college classmate of Franco’s who attended a protest on her behalf in Salvador, Brazil said that Franco ".... was executed because she was a black favela dweller who fought against the murder of black favela dwellers. The genocide of the black population continues in this country... She died because she was a combative black woman.”
Combative, she was. In 2016, she won an election to Rio’s city council as a member of the leftist Socialism and Freedom Party or PSOL. A seat she should not have won, considering the politics in Brazil. Franco was the only Black woman on the entire council. Remeber, Black people, make up half Brazils population. They are the majority in places like Rio city. Marielle Franco was one out of 51. As you might have suspected, she did not have many friends on the council- championing against anti-Black procedures and classism in Rio. Just days before her murder, she had commanded attention to the police killings of two young, black Afro-Latinx.
Franco wasn't just stirring up trouble (the right kind of trouble) during her work as a councilor. Before even taking established office, she opened an official investigation into killings committed by militias that consisted of current and retired cops from Rio. Because of Marielle Franco's intersectional and anti-corruption crusade, many believe she was assassinated either by the police or for them. Because of what we know about Brazil and the way it polices Black Brazilians, this is not a far-fetched conclusion.
In Rio de Janeiro, the police are put in charge of public safety and restoring "order." Similarly, the police in Sacremento were called in for burglary. If you have been paying attention to the way we hold conversations surrounding the role of police in Black and Brown communities, it has always been inherently aggressive.
Policing does not know how to function without the plight of Black and Brown people in the equation. It fails communities over and over.
From the "War on Drugs" to the Broken Windows theory in places like New York City, all the way to putting Rio police in charge of the security of the public, policing is anti-Black. Less about keeping communities of Black and Brown folks and more about keeping the outside world safe from Black and Brown individuals. The murderers of Marielle and Stephon have names. Too many names to count. Names propped up by years of systemic oppression. Policing, at its very core is anti-Black. It's anti-women. Policing takes parents from children and leaders from movements.
Stephon Clark was a father and a member of his community. Marielle had a loving partner and a child of her own. Their lives, though very different, have become lightning rods for conversations we seem to have excessively. In English, Portuguese, chants, and screams of mothers and friends asking why. Clark was a threat to police in his backyard. Marielle was murdered in her favela for sticking up for herself and others like her.
Moments before Stephon was killed, he was on his way to help his grandmother take care of her disabled husband, a man he considered to be a father. The last thing his family heard before he was gunned down was the sound of him tapping on the door saying "Poppa, Poppa! It's me, Little Poppa. Let me in!'" In the hours leading up to the assassination of Marielle Franco, she participated in a roundtable talk with 30 other Afro-Latina women. When she finished the discussion, she ended it with a quote by Audre Lorde: "I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." They are human beings. Not safety threats, not enemies of the people, human beings. Do not let police and the accomplices of crimes against Black and Brown folks convince you any differently. Chinua Achebe said that “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” We should be in the corner of the lion, for the alternative will give the hunter permission to continue.