A woman holds an image of councilwoman and human rights activist Marielle Franco during a protest against her murder in the Mare Complex slum of Rio de Janeiro on March 18, 2018.
Photo: Leo Correa (AP Images)

More than two weeks after the assassination of Marielle Franco, an Afro-Brazilian politician who had staunchly advocated against police violence, grim details have emerged around her death.

As Kiratiana Freelon reported for The Root, the 38-year-old Franco was gunned down in her car by armed men in Rio de Janeiro. She was shot a total of nine times, four of them shots to the head. The killing was described as “militia-style,” and many have speculated that it was politically motivated; Travis Waldron at HuffPost writes that the bullets that killed the social justice advocate “were linked to a cache purchased by the federal police in 2006.”

Franco’s death has inspired protests throughout Brazil, putting pressure on Brazilian officials to solve a case many feel the police have no interest in investigating.

Adding to the cries for justice, on March 22, a cadre of A-list celebrities, writers and activists rallied support for finding Franco’s killers and penned an open letter for the slain leader.

The letter, published in The Guardian and Rio’s O Globo newspaper, points out that Franco was an indefatigable advocate for the rights of Afro-Brazilians, LGBT people, women and low-income communities.

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“A gay black woman born and raised in one of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods, she campaigned relentlessly against spiraling police violence in the city’s favelas,” the letter reads.

It continues, “We are deeply concerned and shocked by this commando-style killing of a woman who was a voice for the voiceless and a symbol of resistance to state-perpetrated violence, militarization and anti-democratic forces.

“Marielle’s murder bears all the hallmarks of a targeted assassination,” the letter observes.

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The open letter closes with a call for justice and for an investigation into Franco’s death by an independent commission. It’s signed by dozens of notable names, including filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Alfonso Cuarón; singer Janelle Monáe; writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Arundhati Roy; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Kahn-Cullors; and the activist and educator Angela Davis.

As The Guardian noted, the global all-star list of signatories adds to mounting international pressure to bring the facts of Franco’s death to light.

The full letter can be read below:

Last week one of Brazil’s most courageous social leaders was brutally assassinated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Marielle Franco, a city councilwoman and human rights defender, was shot four times in the head by unknown assailants in a passing vehicle shortly after leaving a gathering of young black activists. Her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, was also killed (Report, 16 March).

Long before being elected to Rio’s city council in 2016, Marielle was widely known as a tireless and fearless advocate for the rights of Afro-Brazilians, LGBT people, women and low-income communities. A gay black woman born and raised in one of Rio’s poorest neighbourhoods, she campaigned relentlessly against spiralling police violence in the city’s favelas.

Marielle’s activism earned her many powerful enemies. She vehemently challenged the impunity surrounding extrajudicial killings of black youth by security forces and, two days before her death, had denounced the police’s role in the killing of a young black man named Matheus Melo. She was a leading critic of the military intervention in Rio de Janeiro and was the head of a city commission tasked with monitoring the intervention.

We are deeply concerned and shocked by this commando-style killing of a woman who was a voice for the voiceless and a symbol of resistance to state-perpetrated violence, militarisation and anti-democratic forces. Given that Marielle’s murder bears all the hallmarks of a targeted assassination, we call for the creation of an independent commission comprised of prominent and respected national and international human rights and legal experts and tasked with carrying out an independent investigation of the murder of Marielle Franco with the full cooperation of state judicial and police authorities.

Shortly before her death, Marielle asked: “How many others will have to die before this war will end?” We call for justice for Marielle Franco and the daughter and the partner she leaves behind, and for an end to the killings and criminalisation of activists, government opponents and low-income people in Brazil.