Note from BW of Brazil: Hard to believe how quickly time goes by. But it’s already been one month since that the night of March 14th when Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco left a black woman’s meeting, got in a car, was followed and savagely murdered in could only have been a planned hit. Franco may be gone from us in the physical form, but her spirit and her struggle continue in the hearts and minds of numerous everyday people and those involved in the struggle. In the report below, you’ll meet just four of those women, all black, who share what their lives have been since Marielle was taken away from us.
Black women maintain Marielle’s struggles one month after her assassination
Courtesy of AFP; photos by Mauro Pimentel
The murder of Marielle Franco shocked Brazil and the world not only due to the violence of the act, but because of the path of life and politics of councilwoman of the PSOL-RJ, a spokesperson of minorities.
AFP interviewed four spirited black women in Rio de Janeiro to know what has changed in their lives since then and how they continue their struggles after Marielle being killed with four shots on March 14th, in a crime that has yet to lead to punishment.
Each one of them represents part of the flags raised by the Councilwoman: complaints of police violence, against racism and in favor of feminism and the LGBT community and a policy closer to the population.
“It’s been very difficult. It seems that my whole life is stopped,” laments Buba Aguiar, drying away tears, when she sees a report about Marielle on television.
Since the councilwoman was killed, the media activist of the collective Fala Akari (Speak Akari) has vigorously criticized police brutality and the federal intervention in the state – and had to leave the favela slum of Akari.
A student of Social Sciences and an employee of an international NGO that she prefers not to identify, Buba, 25, needed to transform her routine when, hours after the death of Marielle, the press released a video in which she denounced police violence of the 41st BPM in the favela.
The comments of Fala Akari about the “batalhão da morte” (battalion of death), as the 41st BPM is known, had been reproduced by the councilwoman on her Facebook page four days before her death. Soon, it was pointed out as one of the possible reasons for her death, although the police are also investigating the involvement of militias in Rio’s West Zone in the crime.
She now lives in a “protocol of security “, with a secretive routine, full of restrictions, such as the use of a cap and coverage of her tattoos, supported exclusively by human rights NGOs and by the collective that she’s a part of.
Despite the scare and subsequent threats, the experience of Buba in the shantytown, where she lost several friends who are victims of violence, does not allow her to spare criticism of the MP (Military Police). “I don’t see the police as unprepared, to the contrary. It is prepared to give continuity to the official policy of assassinating black, poor and all periphery peoples,” she summarizes.
The young woman today lives with constant threats heard on the street, or relayed through acquaintances of Acari.
“The situation will get worse,” she predicts. “It will be difficult, it will be arduous. But we will continue as we did in the past. Continue struggling, without being intimidated. We have to honor all this blood that was shed,” she says.
– Marina, a street soldier who raises flags
“I say what I think/I raise flags”: the verse of the song “Rueira”, which gives its name to the second album of Rio native Marina Iris, synthesizes her trajectory. In the street or on stage, the singer, 34 years, doesn’t dodge positioning herself on issues of gender, race and class.
“Music has the power to get in touch with a lot of people, it’s a tool to change the social context. I, a militant, don’t feel obliged to only sing militant songs, but I feel useful when I reach the people doing these two things,” she explains.
The song “Meio a meio”, Marina, who is a lesbian, sings about the routine of a couple of women that share a single bed. “I sing of the struggle against oppression in general, but with simplicity and humanization. It’s not grotesque.”
This was also the tone of the project is “É Preta” Black” (she’s black), in which Marina shares the stage with four black singers: Simone Costa, Nina Rosa, Maria Menezes and Marcelle Mota. “Our focus is on the diversity of the trajectories of each one, because there is already a stereotype of the black woman,” she says.
In the militancy of the streets, Marina participated actively, passing out flyers and jingles of Marielle. The two met outside of the political environment, in the rodas de samba (samba circles) of praça São Salvador (square) that councilwoman used to attend, as she did in other cultural events on the streets of the city.
For the singer, the election of Marielle was important not only because of her origins and causes she defended, but to bring diversity to institutional policy.
“The execution of Marielle represents the attempt to implode a path that leads to diversity, to a more egalitarian society. But this symbol that Marielle became is what gives us strength,” she says.
– Thula, a black body at the University
Thula Pires is the only black professor of the Department of Law at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC), where Marielle graduated in sociology.
Despite having spent 15 of his 38 years in academia, she still feels strange, as if this was not her place. She says she always feels “in transit” between her reality in São Gonçalo, where she grew up and lives, and the rich and predominantly white environment of the university.
“The struggle is not for equality. We’re in a struggle for our equal humanity”.
Although the university has been transformed with racial quotas and the creation of the Prouni, Thula ensures that she tries, daily, so that their presence in the classroom does not serve only to “dispute narratives”, but mainly as a “complaint of the absence of other black bodies in this same space.”
“What is the logic of this estrangement? I live in a country where more than half the population is like me!” she protests.
Marielle, who reinforced the need for policies of access of blacks to the university, and Thula met in PUC two years ago and shared friends and common struggles. The murder of the Councilwoman left the professor “devastated”.
“We lost a lot, including fear,” she guarantees.
But Thula changes tone to remember when her daughter asked her the hardest question about what happened: “Mommy, will they kill me too?”
If she were in the university, her response would have been clear and direct: “Yes, it’s a matter of time”.
– J. Lo, a militant even in tattoos –
A month after Marielle’s murder, the multi-artist J. Lo Borges, 30 years old, still hasn’t conformed to her death. A carioca (native of Rio) from Irajá, in the city’s north zone, and lesbian militant, she found in the councilwoman a political representation that didn’t imagine.
“I didn’t even have to to go after her,” recalls the grafiteira (graffiti artist) of the feminist network of urban arts NAMI. She was part of Coletiva Visibilidade Lésbica (lesbian visibility collective) when she was invited by the office of Marielle to attend a meeting in the House of Councilors last year.
“When I arrived, there were several women of various collectives. It was after this that we founded the Frente Lésbica (Lesbian Front) of Rio de Janeiro. If it wasn’t for Marielle, the Frente wouldn’t exist.”
Despite having a degree in history and having taken courses in Letters, it was in the arts that J. Lo found herself professionally.
“Today, I can’t speak on any art without the political slant. As a tatuadora (tattoo artist), I don’t tattoo men, I research processes for peles pretas (black skins) and I charge the lowest price for negras (black women). As a grafiteira and plastic artist, my main theme is always lesbian visibility,” she says.
The single point of contact that groups in which they are activists have with the party system is currently the councilwoman Talíria Petrone, of the PSOL in Niterói.
After Marielle’s death, the homosexual, black and peripheral artist, feels more vulnerable than ever before – especially in a country that killed double the lesbian women in 2017 compared to 2016, according to data from the dossier on Lesbocídio in Brazil.
“As I always had a lot of fear, I have learned to take advantage of the racism of people. Since I was 15 years old, people distance themselves from me on the street thinking that I’ll rob them. I use this to protect myself.”