“It’s been two years. And we still don’t have an answer”, I say clutching my fists and drowning my nails into the palm of my hands.
Our weekly Wednesday meetings had to be postponed to today due to the latest police operations in the Complexo. Some of the members of the Justice for Marielle committee, including me, got stuck in their houses due to the exchange of gunfire. It has gotten worse over the years. There is no longer an explicit need for them to come. The panacea of the war on drugs seems to be this all-encompassing threat that kills my neighbours on a daily basis.
With the deepening of the situation, I’ve learnt to start the meetings with a prayer. As we are all women, most of us mothers, the majority has either already lost a family member to the police of Rio de Janeiro or is acquainted with someone who did. So, we pay our homage to the dead whilst opening space for collective mourning.
This week, Tatiana lost her 12-year-old boy. She tells us the story with wounded eyes and a hushed tone. Her employer called when she was already on her way home, accusing her of stealing one of her imported designer bags. She would then ask the bus driver to drop her off and spend a day’s salary on an Uber back to the lady’s house. She would leave João Pedro a voicemail to tell him she’d be late but there were leftovers on the fridge. By the time she’d arrive home, the unsettled neighbourhood, people running around aimlessly or crying on the sidewalks, would indicate that the police had just left. She would then hurry up to the alley that leads to her house, only to find her cousin running towards her, carcass in his arms, blood dripping in his legs.
“His motionless face is the last memory I have of him”, Tati shares.
I know a prayer is unable to fix this. It will never solace a mother’s shattered heart. The same way it hasn’t mended mine since the day they took my wife. But these moments of silence and sharing bring us, if anything, the feeling that we are not alone. That these deaths are not isolated happenings but rather collective experiences. Something that requires the strength of each and every one of us in order to heal. At the end of the day, if our losses go unrecognised even by our own communities, we would never be able to surmount the well of anger that encloses itself in on us.
So our prayer is a way through which we signal surrender- not to those who murder us, but to one another. It’s the circle in which we are allowed to be vulnerable for a change. The place where we don’t have to suppress hurt or change the subject or swallow the cry for help that often suffocates us. It’s the only way we can return to our empty houses and continue carrying on with life. Showing up for our underpaid jobs or our newly acquired court rooms obligations or visits to newspapers. It’s a place where we can breathe. And restore, even if frailly, the dignity that is looted from us since we were deemed to defy color.
“It’s been two years. And we still don’t have an answer”, I say ignoring the thing around my neck while addressing the crowd of deputies in front of me.
Since Marielle was killed, I’ve been coming to the Chamber to plea for justice. To demand that investigations don’t be postponed or interrupted for lack of evidence- when what that really means is that evidence is just something too dangerous to look at. That the solution of her assassination foreshadows the dismantlement of our government. I have been coming here, monthly for the past two years, to urge that these people, who were once her peers, don’t let my wife become just another statistic.
It blows my mind. That they still don’t know who did it. It seems as if since she once sat in these chairs, as the first black lesbian woman to be voted inside these walls, her death remains forbidden. As if admitting to it is acknowledging that the system is the culprit. As if deep down, we all share the improperness of who shot her body. That the fingers that order the trigger, time and time again, are cloaked by the same cloth that weaves this country and therefore; insurmountable.
It has been two years. Since I was standing in the kitchen on a Thursday night. I got a call from my wife, saying she would be later than she expected. We had been keeping track of each other’s schedule since Mari started getting death threats over the phone. She couldn’t stop attending to her duties. Not now when the people who voted for her, the people who believed in her, needed her. That night, it was a group of girls who had invited her to talk about the empowerment of black youth. To remind them of the tidal waves that steer structural change once they determine they are power. She would see to it, of course. She would see to it that Brazil still had a chance. And she would tell me, before hanging up, that she had been thinking about what I had asked her the week before. She’d say she was willing to give it a try.
At first, we took the threats as hoax. We thought of inmates in prison pressuring for money. But as the calls got more frequent, specific, I got terrified. They threatened me, our daughter, anyone who was close to her. But Mari was wary. How could we trust our protection to the same body that threatens us? How could she demand surveillance from the very force she was investigating and exposing and holding accountable? I knew how difficult this was for her. Succumbing to external pressure, signalling that she was also scared, admitting that her skin still held her captive. But she would say she was willing to give it a try.
Either we were too late or they were too fast. Whichever one, I was cooking dinner when I got a call from the hospital saying she had been shot. That her body was mutilated. That I had to claim the corpse. That I could not coax her back to me. That that moment, I wanted to curse her. And her stubbornness. And her sex. That if I could I’d rip off her flesh and show the world she too had bones. Firm. Strong. Blazing. And for that reason she screamed, she fought, she pushed. And that when others forget- of her, of João Pedro, of every black soul that is forced out prematurely- we will continue to say their names. And envision a day, a world, where life means, primarily, being allowed to live.