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U.N. Calls For Investigation Into Assassination Of Black Activist In Brazil


The assassination of a black activist in Rio de Janeiro has caused a worldwide outcry. She was a politician. She campaigned for the rights of women and minorities and also against the lethal tactics routinely used by Brazilian police. Many mourning her death hoped it might at least help end Rio's epidemic of violence. NPR's Philip Reeves says that those hopes are fading.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's been two weeks since Marielle Franco and her driver were shot dead in their car in Rio. The following day, tens of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets, demanding the killers be held to account and calling for an end to the bloodshed plaguing their society. So far, the police have made no arrests, and the violence is spreading.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portuguese).


REEVES: This is a government housing estate on the edge of the city of Marica, an hour's drive from Rio. Hundreds of pink and apricot-colored houses are neatly laid out amid lawns and playgrounds. Five young men were here Sunday, sitting around a communal barbecue pit after a night out. Residents say around dawn a car pulled up. Two men got out. They ordered the youths to lie face down on the concrete and shot them one by one, execution style, with a bullet to the head. Adriana Silva dos Santos is an aunt of one of the victims, Marco Jonathan Silva Oliveira. He was 17.

ADRIANA SILVA DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "They were just kids," says dos Santos. Killings between rival drug gangs happen in Brazil almost every day. Police won't say whether they think drugs were a factor in this case. They confirmed, though, the five young men had no criminal records. Four were teenagers.

DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "They were into rap music," explains dos Santos, "and belonged to a rap circle sponsored by the local mayor." Several of them posted songs on the Internet, including this one by Savio Oliveira, nicknamed Soul. He was 20.


SAVIO OLIVEIRA: (Rapping in Portuguese).

REEVES: On the streets of the estate, there's speculation the five were killed because their rap lyrics upset someone. Dos Santos has another theory.

DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: She thinks the killers acted randomly and murdered them for fun. Marica, the scene of this atrocity, is within the state of Rio de Janeiro. Last month, Brazil's president, Michel Temer, put the army in overall charge of security statewide in the hope of curbing a surge in violence. It's the first time that's happened since the end of Brazil's dictatorship in the mid-1980s. So far, the generals haven't made any headway.

JULITA LEMGRUBER: The bottom line is that they didn't want to do it, and they didn't have a plan, and they're still trying to figure out what they're going to do.

REEVES: That's Julita Lemgruber, a former police ombudsman and a commentator on security issues. She says those who hope the high-profile assassination of Marielle Franco, the black activist, would be a turning point were wrong. Violence is actually going up in Rio, says Lemgruber.

LEMGRUBER: Everything is getting out of control, and this is very serious. And unfortunately, I think Marielle Franco's death opened a Pandora Box.

REEVES: Back in Marica, friends and neighbors of the five rappers plan a ceremony Sunday to mourn their deaths. They'll gather in the streets and seek healing with a communal hug.

MARIA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "We really do need this hug," says Maria, a neighbor who requested her full name be withheld for safety reasons. And we also need more security, she says. Maria is worried that hug may be her community's only comfort...

MARIA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ...And that the murder of five young rappers will become yet another unsolved crime in an ever-growing catalogue of bloodshed. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL BROOK'S "KNEADER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.