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Brazilian Activist Killed In Drive-By Shooting


Crowds across Brazil yesterday were mourning a human rights activist who was shot to death in what police suspect was a targeted killing. Marielle Franco was an unusual face in Brazilian politics. She was black, outspokenly feminist and grew up in a poor neighborhood in Rio. Her followers are pledging to carry on her work. From Rio de Janeiro, Catherine Osborn reports.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: A human chain of almost a hundred women parted the crowds as Marielle Franco's coffin was carried up the steps of Rio's City Hall. The women chanted a song about supporting each other.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

OSBORN: Franco, who was 38, was a sociologist and Rio city councilperson. She was known across Brazil for her feminism and her persistent denouncing of the gun violence worsening in Rio's poor areas. The night before, she ran an event called Young Black Women Shifting Social Structures.


MARIELLE FRANCO: (Foreign language spoken).

OSBORN: In a video stream from the event, Franco is grinning and joking in her famous blonde-tipped afro and purple lipstick.


FRANCO: (Foreign language spoken).

OSBORN: She talked about everything from workplace child care to the importance of black Brazilians running for office. Then, on the way home, nine gunshots hit her car from behind. The ones that missed her head killed her driver, Anderson Gomes. Rio police say they believe Franco was targeted but are still investigating the crime. Thousands of protesters marched nationwide last night. Many held signs suggesting Franco was killed because of her activism.

MARINA MOTTA: Her activism was against police violence, and that has been threatening and bothering the police leadership.

OSBORN: That's 32-year-old demonstrator Marina Motta. The police, for their part, said all possible motives are still on the table. International groups are also monitoring the investigations. Here's the head of Human Rights Watch Brazil, Maria Laura Canineu.

MARIA LAURA CANINEU: This is a moment of profound concern.

OSBORN: Canineu says the burden of proof is on Brazil's government to carry out a thorough investigation. The killing happened soon after Brazil's president ordered the army to take over security in Rio, claiming the city's violence needed emergency measures. But so far, says Canineu...

CANINEU: The killing shows that the population has not become more secure, especially human rights defenders.

OSBORN: For Motta, the protester, this is not just a moment of mourning but of recommitment to Franco's work toward safer communities.

MOTTA: We have to carry on what Marielle was doing. She has all these people behind her.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

OSBORN: On Thursday night, thousands of them snaked through the downtown city blocks, calling for justice. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.