[dropcap]S[/dropcap]outh Florida made news this weekend for more than just Art Basel. Protesters swept through Wynwood, Midtown, Interstate 195, and on major roads in
Broward County, joining a nationwide demonstration in the wake of grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. Both were incidents of fatal police violence against unarmed black males that sparked outrage when the officers in question avoided indictment.
Miami’s well known street art community had its own reason for solidarity against police violence alongside what has become known as the Shut It Down rallies. In August of last year, local graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez died after being taser shocked in the chest by a City of Miami Beach police officer. Hernandez was spray painting on an abandoned McDonald’s when police pursued him, and according to the police chief, resisted arrest leading to the taser being deployed.
Friends of Hernandez who witnessed the incident reportedly said the officers on the scene pushed the 18-year-old against the wall before using the taser and high-fived one another as his body lie below them. One of the witnesses used to word “gruesome” while describing it to a local news station.
Hernandez lacked permission to spray paint on the building, however the imbalance of justice prompted an outpouring of support from graffiti communities and police violence activists worldwide. This outpouring reemerged as part of this weekend’s march, with protesters shouting “Reefa lives!” as they blocked traffic in Midtown.
The Facebook page Miami Graffiti told the Miamian, “His death had a huge impact on all of us! His death had a strong tie to the protest this weekend being that Art Basel is an event to commemorate our Miami graffiti artists.”
Miami Graffiti has over three thousand “likes,” and catalogues photos of graffiti from locations throughout the city. It is an anonymous advocate of the local street artist scene, and stated that it wants to show people that the art form “is not only about vandalism but about expressing one’s artistic talents.”
“Police brutality is at an all time high” said Miami Graffiti, “and yes he wasn’t shot by a bullet like what happened in Ferguson or choked to death like Eric Garner but his life was still taken at the hands of the police who [are] supposed to be here to protect us, the people.”
Another local graffiti artist was reported to have been run over by a police car while being chased for spray painting without permission. Known to the graffiti community as “Demz,” Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez, 21, is still in critical condition.
On Friday, the protesters reportedly started marching around 5 p.m. in Midtown. Soon they shut down Interstate 195 for an hour and later North Miami Avenue, where some demonstrators lie silently on the street for several minutes. The next day in Broward County, protesters blocked Las Olas Boulevard, Broward Boulevard, and U.S.1. On Sunday, the march returned to Wynwood and Midtown for the final day of Art Week Miami.