Brazil condemns violence against a candidate, but Marielle Franco’s killers remain free

A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro holds up a doll in the presidential candidate’s image in Sao Paulo on Sept. 9. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)
A supporter of Jair Bolsonaro holds up a doll in the presidential candidate’s image in Sao Paulo on Sept. 9. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

Last Thursday, Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro was stabbed in the abdomen during a campaign rally in the southeastern town of Juiz de Fora.

As supporters of the far-right candidate and former Army captain — known for his support of torture during the country’s military dictatorship, and for his desire to loosen gun laws — hoisted him onto their shoulders and carried him through the crowd, police said the suspected attacker, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, allegedly lunged at Bolsonaro with a knife, lacerating his small and large intestines. At the time, the injury was considered life-threatening and Bolsonaro was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair the damage and to stop internal bleeding. He is still in serious condition, but is expected to recover.

De Oliveira was immediately captured by the candidate’s supporters and handed over to federal police agents who were on the scene. The suspect’s mental health has been called into question after he reportedly claimed that God had told him to stab Bolsonaro.

The attack on Bolsonaro is, so far, the only moment in the run-up to Brazil’s October vote that has prompted candidates from across the political spectrum to respond in unison: violence has no place in this election, no matter how divisive it has become. Ideas, they said, should be discussed and debated, but an attempt on a candidate’s life is unacceptable, despite the irony that Bolsonaro himself has advocated for violence against women, blacks and members of the LGBTQ community.

But while they condemn the violence carried out against Bolsonaro, those same candidates have been silent about the assassination of Marielle Franco, a member of Rio de Janeiro’s city council. Friday will mark six months since Franco, a black queer woman from a favela in Rio’s Complexo da Maré, was fatally shot in her car after leaving an event she had hosted to encourage black women in the city to participate in politics. Six months later, no one knows who killed Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes. More important, no one knows who ordered the attack, which police have said was politically motivated.

Justice is rare for anyone in Brazil, where only 6 percent of homicide cases are solved (compared with more than 60 percent in the United States). Violence against women in Brazil is also rampant — 12 women are murdered here every day — and black women are, by far, the most frequent victims. According to the latest Atlas of Violence, with data collected by the Institute of Applied Economic Research and the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, the number of black women murdered in 2016 was 71 percent higher than all other women. Over the last 10 years, the murder rate of non-black women dropped 8 percent, while the murder rate of black women increased by 15 percent.

The day before her death, Franco had spoken out against violence in Rio de Janeiro, questioning the police’s involvement in the murder of a young man who lived in a favela. “Another homicide of a young man that could be credited to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many others will have to die for this war to end?” she wrote in a tweet.

Franco disapproved of the military police unit in question, known as the “battalion of death,” and, a month before her asassination, was named rapporteur of a special commission that was to serve as a watchdog over the controversial federal intervention in Rio’s public security. Franco was seen as the future of politics in Brazil: someone who could speak for the majority and create change for everyone. With Franco, Brazil could have become the country of the present, and not remained the ubiquitous country of the future.

But the voices of black women are not given value in Brazil. While Franco’s was violently silenced because of her platform, many others aren’t given the chance to have one to stand on. Despite making up more than half the country’s population, women represent 10 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate. Black women, who are 27.1 percent of the population, are underrepresented at an even more alarming rate. Just 1.9 percent of lawmakers and 3.7 percent of senators are black women, according the organization Rede Umunna.

So the silence of Brazil’s political sphere in the six months since Franco’s assassination, and the swift condemnation of the violence against Bolsonaro shouldn’t come as a surprise. Like other young black women in this country, Franco’s life was seen as expendable and her voice unimportant, despite the discomfort it caused when she raised it above the hum of the political elite.

As Bolsonaro recovers in one of the best hospitals in the country, the name and photo of his attacker splashed across news sites and sitting above the fold in national newspapers, Franco’s family, friends and supporters are still fighting for justice. As we all continue to talk about the attack on the presidential candidate, we still don’t have the answer to a question that should have been answered six months ago: Who killed Marielle?

Jill Langlois is an independent journalist based in São Paulo, Brazil. She is a 2018 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grantee for her project, The Prison Next Door, published on The Lily.

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