Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets to demand answers in the death of Franco, whose slaying is seen by her backers as a political assassination. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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When Marielle Franco, an outspoken activist for the rights of poor blacks in Rio's violence-plagued favelas, was gunned down, the most unusual thing was that authorities firmly pointed the finger at the paramilitaries, or "militias" as they're known locally.Murders happen all the time in Rio de Janeiro state. Six weeks after the killing, police have yet to make any arrests – more proof, critics say, of the militias' heavy hand.Frankenstein projectIronically, when the militias first formed around the year 2000, they were seen as an attempt to save Brazil's second biggest city from the ravages of drug gangs.Like an out-of-control Frankenstein monster, the militias gradually morphed from neighborhood protection into mafia-like protection rackets, using their muscle and expertise not only to fight drug gangs but to replace them as rulers of the local streets.And from the streets, the militias have extended their influence into politics, all the while preventing the Brazilian media from daring to dig too far into their activities.In this way, a single militia group can earn an estimated $7 million a month, experts say.Whether Franco's murder will change anything for the militias remains to be seen.
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