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May 23, 2019

Two former policemen arrested in the murder of black queer Brazilian politician Marielle Franco

March 15, 2019
Councilwoman Marielle Franco smiles for a photo in Cinelandia square, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Franco was slain Wednesday, March 14, while returning from an event focused on empowering young black women. (Ellis Rua / AP)

Nearly one year after a crime that shocked Brazilians and mobilized activists around the world, police in Rio de Janeiro arrested two former police officers in connection to the killing of Councilwoman Marielle Franco.

Franco was a black queer woman celebrated by many in Brazil as a champion for the rights for minorities. A feminist icon who fought for LGBTQ and reproductions rights, she became an outspoken critic against police brutality and an advocate for people from favela communities, as a rising start of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL).

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Favelas are low-income – and often violent — neighborhoods usually located in the outskirts of large urban cities in Brazil. Franco grew up in a a large favela in Rio de Janeiro.

On March 14, 2018, as Franco, her driver, and a press officer were in a car on their way from a meeting to empower young black women, two men in a car fired nine shots into the vehicle, killing both Franco and the driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes. The press officer, who was in back seat, was injured but survived.

According to O Globo newspaper, prosecutors wrote in a court document that “it is undeniable that Marielle Francisco da Silva was summarily executed because of her political actions when defending the causes she believed in.”

Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel, a close ally to Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, joined members of Rio police in a press conference Tuesday where he praised the investigators for the arrest of the two suspects: retired officer Ronnie Lessa, 48, who allegedly fired the shots that killed Franco, and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, 46, who’s been accused of driving the car after the murder. Queiroz was expelled from the police in 2015, for for reasons authorities did not explain, according to the Associated Press.

“It was a crime against a lawmaker, a woman, exercising her democratic function and had her life taken away through in an unacceptable, criminal way,” Witzel told reporters. “It’s unacceptable to any human being, but this was even more unacceptable because Marielle was exercising parliamentary duties.”

Rio de Janeiro State Legislator Marcelo Freixo doesn’t sound convinced. “The murderer of Marielle is not only the person who pulled the trigger. It’s the one who planned and hired somebody to kill her. This is a politically motivated crime, and we demand to know which political group can eliminate a councilwoman. This is for democracy and freedom,” Freixo wrote on Twitter.

Shortly after the murder, the Brazilian newspaper A Folha de São Paulo pointed out that one of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s sons, Flavio Bolsonaro deleted a tweet in which he expressed condolences. The now Senator for Rio de Janeiro was a representative for the state.

Rio de Janeiro-based investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald noted that his brother Carlos served in the city council at that time. He tweeted, “What made the Bolsonaro family’s refusal to comment on Marielle’s assassination particularly strange – at a time when not just Brazil but the world was mourning her – was one of his sons, Carlos, served with her in the Rio City Council. She was his colleague. Yet he said nothing!”

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