More than 200 people gathered at the corner of 71st Street and Collins Avenue last night with skateboards, armbands, and signs scrawled with the message "#JusticeForReefa."
The corner is the same spot where one year earlier, 18-year-old Israel "Reefa" Hernandez died after a Miami Beach Police officer shot him in the chest with a Taser following a foot chase that began when he was caught tagging the walls of a nearby abandoned McDonald's with graffiti. Hernandez's family, friends, and supporters celebrated the teen's life last night but said they're still waiting for justice.
"He was an inspiration to all of us," said Daniel Montes, a fellow skater and former classmate of Hernandez's. "Whether you knew him or not, so many people are out here because they've heard just what an amazing spirit he was."
Supporters at the rally, led by his immediate family dressed in black, wore shirts with #JusticeForReefa and the phrase "Art is not a crime" on the front. Others arrived with their skateboards in hand as a sign of solidarity to their fellow skateboarder and artist.
"We come in peace and are just looking for justice," said Jorge Estomba, who led the vigil.
The story of Hernandez's death, which was first reported by New Times, has evolved over the past year as his family continues to seek answers. In March, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that his cause of death was "sudden cardiac arrest" as a result of shock from an "energy device discharge." That report came after months of speculation by officials that Hernandez's demise could have been drug-related.
On May 28, Offir Hernandez, Reefa's sister, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Miami Beach. Miami Beach PD and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have not yet finished their own investigations of Hernandez's death, but in the meantime, Jorge Mercado, the officer who hit Hernandez with the Taser, has not been charged with his death and remains on active duty.
Last night's rally featured musical performances from his friends, and Offir read some of Reefa's poetry. His art was also on display. Though his relatives say they have no plans to sell his work, Reefa's art will soon be featured in exhibits in Spain, France, England, and his native Colombia.
"He wasn't just some simple street artist vandalizing," Estomba said. "His art has so much value."
Photo by Sabrina Rodriguez
During the program, Fusion TV presented a part of its new documentary, Tasered: The Israel Hernandez Story, which examines Hernandez's death and the overall use of Tasers.
Throughout the night, about a dozen Miami Beach Police officers remained in the surrounding area to make sure the event went according to plan.
Photo by Sabrina Rodriguez
Among the speakers were Thiago Sousa, Hernandez's best friend, who was there the night Hernandez died and witnessed the scene when police Tasered him. Sousa and another friend, Felix Fernandez, later claimed that officers on the scene high-fived one another after the arrest, not realizing the extent of Hernandez's injuries.
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"They neglected him, and any of you could be next," Sousa said. "He was taken away by the ones who escorted us here, and they took away our friend."
"It's that neglect from the police, that's why we're out here," Montes said. "It's a tragedy, and I don't want to be the next one or have this happen to someone else."