Israel Hernandez Killing: Reefa Tributes Show South Florida's Street Art Scene Is Flourishing
On the second Saturday night in August, Wynwood was a blur of booze and beats. Thousands had descended upon the district for the neighborhood's monthly Art Walk. Drinks in hand, they moved in mass from one gallery to the next. But the piece drawing the biggest buzz wasn't behind glass, or even inside a showroom. It was spray-painted on the side of a building: a pink pig with a police sash Tasering a skinny kid with a can of Krylon in his hand. "Pigs gone wild," it said. "R.I.P. Reefa."
Jacob Katel A Wynwood mural honoring Israel Hernandez, aka Reefa
The mural is one of many to appear across South Florida since the death of local teenager Israel "Reefa" Hernandez. The 18-year-old artist and skater was tagging his name on an abandoned McDonald's in Miami Beach when cops chased him, caught him, and fatally shot him with a Taser. The killing sparked outrage from Hernandez's friends and family, as well as protests from Miami Beach residents fed up with their police department's recent record of brutality. It garnered news coverage from Los Angeles to Lima.
But Reefa's death has also unleashed a wave of street-side homages to Hernandez. From murals sprayed on Wynwood's walls to tags scrawled around North Shore and #RIPReefa stickers slapped around the world, the response has gone beyond mere grief. It's proof that the street-art scene Hernandez died for has now come of age.
"This is something that has never happened in Miami," says local artist GG, who painted the "Pigs gone wild" mural. "Incidents like this could either really scare artists and prevent them from going out on the streets, or it could cause people to react in a positive way. And [positive] is what we're seeing."
Jacob Katel GG's "Pigs Gone Wild" mural before it was buffed on Thursday
The first homages to Hernandez appeared a few hours after New Times broke the news. By midnight on Wednesday, two messages had appeared on the yellow McDonald's that Hernandez was tagging just before he died. "I'll see you around," one person wrote next to Reefa's uncompleted signature. "Rest in Paradise Israel."
During a protest the next day, hundreds of Hernandez's friends and family members wrote their goodbyes on the same building with chalk. Some even used spray paint, openly defying cops watching from across the street. Soon, the messages began bleeding into the North Shore neighborhood where Reefa died. The blood red tag "Kopz Kill!" was scrawled in an alley. "Fuck da 5-0," appeared nearby. And a sarcastic "Taze Me Bro!" was splashed on a sign for a Walgreens.
Terrence McCoy A tag in North Beach near where Hernandez was killed
By Friday, mainstream Miami artists were getting in the mix. GG, a well known local painter with pieces in galleries around town, was driving home after dinner with his girlfriend when he felt the sudden urge to throw up a mural in honor of Hernandez. "We kept talking about it because it was bothering me," he says. "All of a sudden, I just said: 'Let's go to Wynwood.'" GG spotted a prime spot on NW 2nd Avenue at 27th Street, swung his car to the curb, and pulled his paint from the trunk. "It was risky because it was the beginning of the main street. There were people everywhere."
He painted the police pig as fast as he could, but its message is nevertheless clear. "It's amazing that cops are acting this way, pretty much abusing their power," GG says. He left the words - "Pigs gone wild" and "R.I.P. Reefa" - for last, packing up and driving away without a problem after an hour.
(GG's mural has since been completely buffed, or painted over. He doesn't know who got rid of it, but says "the piece did it's job, that's what matters.")