Street art collides with alleged police brutality in Miami

The tragic death of a promising teenage graffiti artist has prompted outrage and calls for justice

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Visitors pay their respects at the building where Hernandez was killed Michael E. Miller

Israel 'Reefa' Hernandez was a promising 18-year old graffiti artist and skater from Florida who was chased by police after being caught tagging an abandoned building in Miami Beach. He was cornered, then tasered and died an hour later in hospital. The incident, that took place last August 2013, has sparked protests and outrage from those that knew him and beyond.

According to Reuters, witnesses to the incident said that the police officers high-fived and laughed as he lay on the ground. A medical examination that stated that 'Reefa' died from "cardiac arrest caused by electrical discharge from a device", and a judge later controversially ruled the death as an accident. Yesterday, protestors demanded the arrest of Jorge Mercado, the officer who delivered the fatal shot, marching into the state attorney's office yesterday chanting "no peace, no justice".

"The state attorney's office is trying to get people to accept that this was an accident," says Jorge Estomba, an activist and adviser to the Hernandez family. "It was not an accident."

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The 'R' that Reefa was tagging when he was shot is still up on the wall Michael E. Miller

Supporters of Israel have sinced intensified their efforts for justice. Last November, they staged a flashmob at Art Basel, one of and most lucrative art events in South Florida. They entered the Miami Beach Convention Center one by one, and removed their jackets to reveal T-shirts bearing the slogan 'Justice For Israel' before breaking into the hymn "Mama Mama, Can't You See", changing the lyrics to "Mama mama, tell me why, why our artists have to die, painting things to make you smile, then they kill us with no trial". 

The death of the teenage artist is in stark contrast to the rebranding of Miami as a street art friendly city that supports artistic freedom – a happy urban utopia where "artists spray paint old warehouse walls with abandon". That sadly wasn't the case for Hernandez. Now, his family have been left to pick up the pieces. 

We've had technologically advanced weaponry on the brain recently: what with taser drones at SXSW and taser-proof clothing, do you think that police officers should be allowed to carry violent instruments like tasers – which, while not at lethal as a straight bullet to the head – can still lead to death?

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