Reefa Supporters Invade Art Basel Convention Center, Petition on the Streets of Wynwood

Subhash Kateel inside the Miami Beach Convention Center
An elderly art collector, her hair dyed and twisted into a J.M.W. Turner seascape, lowered her cell phone from her ear long enough to listen to the protestors gathered at the entryway to the Art Basel Miami Beach fair.

"What is a Reefa?"

Her companion, an aubergine-suited man with glossy skin, shrugged.

Four months after the promising 18-year-old street artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez died after being tasered by Miami Beach police officer Jorge Mercado, friends and family in the Justice for Reefa Coalition used last week's series of art fairs to raise awareness for what they believe to be an unjustified killing. The group has been joined by the Dream Defenders, the same group that occupied the Florida state capital building for 31 days following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Though the alliance staged actions every day of the fairs, their main events were a protest outside the Miami Beach Convention Center on Friday night, a flash mob-style gathering inside the building at the main entrance of the fair during a high-traffic period, and a weekend spent petitioning and talking to graffiti-receptive out-of-towners in Wynwood.

Subhash Kateel, a radio broadcaster and community activist, said of Officer Mercado, "He's a Miami Beach veteran who has been here long enough to know if he was really was in danger. We've done our homework, and it's just really clear to us that the law is on our side. The only way the level of force used on Israel was justified is if everyone, like him, were a 150-pound 18-year-old. And we're not. We do not believe that all of those officers that day were in fear of a 150-pound 18-year-old boy.

"It's been four months with no autopsy or toxicology reports released. Leaks come out that we believe to be from the police department, saying that Israel was on drugs. Well, show us the evidence."

Some of the assembled activists were street artists like Hernandez, friends of his or merely drawn to the cause as kindred spirits. Most of the group, however, were young minority activists. They would have liked to have gone inside the fair to protest, said one who declined to be named, but "tickets are too expensive for people like us."

"Basel Week is a time of year when the city purports to care about art and artists. So if you really care about art and artists, care about Reefa," says Yesenia Garcia of the Justice for Reefa Coalition. "This is a time when Miami Beach is making millions and millions off of the Miami art scene. But why don't they care about artists the rest of the year?"

As the sun set on Friday, protesters held a banner reading "We Demand Justice For Israel Hernandez" across the street from the fair. Miami Beach police stood by to keep the group from setting foot on the sidewalk, asking curious passersby to keep moving when they stopped to ask questions about Hernandez. The plan was to then have a second group flood inside the convention center to the passageway where the crowds bottleneck as they enter and exit. The group would sing protest songs and make a brief speech about Reefa and the circumstances of his death.

After tagging the first letter of his name on the side of a graffiti-covered abandoned McDonald's -- which was also plastered with illegally posted political campaign posters -- Hernandez fled from police. He later died from what protestors consider to be an unjustified level of force.

"For anyone who has grown up in Miami, police corruption and brutality is a fact of everyday life," Garcia said. The protestors across the street called for justice in English and Spanish, and the others prepared to enter the Convention Center. "That system corruption is so engrained here that it can feel overwhelming. This is the moment when we as citizens need to say that's enough.

"It bothers me that young people and people of color need to worry about the police department. It's the reason why I don't usually go to the Beach. I don't go to Pembroke Pines. There's a lack of respect for citizens."

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drakemallard topcommenter

It’s a crime, not art!  Graffiti, it’s everywhere.On freeway bridges, bus stops maybe your own property. But getting rid of it is a never-ending, expensive process.

Fleeing the police, after they have identified themselves as police, is ALWAYS a chargeable offense. Once you flee from an officer, you can be charged with fleeing the police, even if you have done nothing wrong.

The moral is: If a police officer asks you for I.D. or wants to handcuff you and you are innocent, do not run. Just comply. You can always file a complaint later, if the cop has acted inappropriately The criminal charge of fleeing a police officer is often added on to other criminal charges

For the last 17 years, the North Beach residents and the business owners have been working hard to get the area revitalized and have changed it to be a desirable place to live in and for tourists from all over the world come visit. This has been accomplished with the help and support of the Miami Beach Police Officers assigned to North Beach.

The rebirth of North Beach took a long time and selfish actions, which do not take in consideration the effect on other people, are simply not acceptable. The North Beach businesses offer work for local people, who feed their families with the business movement in the area. At the same time, the majority of the residents appreciate living in a safe and clean area where tourism is welcome because it gives life to this part of Miami Beach.

When private property gets tagged with graffiti, property owners are required by Miami Beach Code Enforcement to paint right away, spending funds that could very well be used for other positive things.

It is very tragic what has taken place with the death of a young man, who instead of using his talents in a positive way, decided to risk his freedom by doing what he very well knew was wrong. His selfish actions brought him to a confrontation with the police officers looking after a community. They had no intention of causing death to anyone by using a working tool provided to them to be used on those who refused to listen to a police officer order when caught breaking the law.

Instead of promoting the defacing of private property, violence and disrespect to the police officers, people should use a little common sense. It is not difficult to understand that all human beings have the capacity to differentiate right from wrong and the capacity to understand that actions have consequences, without forgetting that the first action is what leads to what then will follow. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN RIGHT, SO WHEN THEY GO OUT TO SOCIETY THEY CANNOT REGRET THEIR ACTIONS LATER.

It is important for the news to take to their viewers another point of view of what has taken place.

Adrian Rivera
Adrian Rivera

I'd care more if his supporters weren't tagging "rip reefa" right onto windows of small businesses who then have to replace or fix and clean it. They're fucking assholes.

Ace Greene
Ace Greene

Lam...he was painting on the side of an abandoned building that was already covered in graffiti...and illegal political posters. The cops didn't go down to the campaign offices about the posters. He didn't need to be brutalized for it.


Miami Beach government is run by unions and lawyers.  No justice will come out of this.  A settlement will be reached with an agreement to not disclose the payout.  Protesting against a powerful police union is not going to go anywhere.  Speak with your pocket and take your business to Coral Gables. 

Lam Nguyen
Lam Nguyen

Why was he vandalizing property and running away from the police to begin with?

drakemallard topcommenter

Let me ask this question of the family, if someone graffitied your house or property, would you consider it art or vandalism? I bet money on it that you would be on the phone calling police. So,,,, now you know what your son was doing...... Sorry that he died, but he was also engaging in illegal, property destroying, vandalism.....

miamitrev2 topcommenter

Learn the difference between "abandoned" and "unoccupied" and then we can have an educated discussion.   Thanks.

miamitrev2 topcommenter

Hopefully the settlement is for $0 and Miami Beach doesnt make the toxicology report public.

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