Israel Hernandez had two big dreams before he was killed by a Miami Beach Police officer. The 18-year-old wanted to start a skateboarding line, and he wanted to be recognized as an artist.
Three years after the graffiti artist's Taser-induced death
, his family still clings to those dreams as a way to keep him alive. This Sunday, they'll try to make one of them come true by displaying his artwork at a Wynwood gallery.
"What gives us strength is his dreams," says his older sister, Offir Hernandez. "And that's why we're following them, that's why we're continuing them, that's why we're not going to stop until they happen."
The August 6, 2013, death of Hernandez, better known as "Reefa," grabbed international headlines, sparked rallies accusing police of using excessive force, and reopened the debate over police use of stun guns. It also led to a still-pending wrongful death lawsuit.
The skater and artist was tagging his name on an abandoned McDonald's in Miami Beach when police spotted him. He bolted, and they chased him for several blocks before catching up. Officer Jorge Mercado used his department-issued Taser on Hernandez.
One of the prongs hit the scrawny teen in the chest, and he died in the hospital hours later. Medical examiners, in a first-of-its-kind ruling for Florida, found his death was caused by Taser-induced heart failure.
But State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's office decided not to file charges
against Mercado, calling Hernandez's death unintended.
"It's been very hard for all of us," Offir Hernandez says. "And part of our therapy is to keep him alive through his art and his dreams."
Reefa wanted to go to art school one day. He made paintings and sculptures and mixed-media pieces, and won awards for them.
This Sunday, while Art Basel is underway, two of Reefa's works will be displayed at Blank Canvas alongside pieces by seven other Colombian artists that aim to honor Colombia's cultural progress. (The Hernandez family immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia.)
Offir Hernandez says this is just the beginning. The family plans to put on other events to show off Reefa's work. And she's working to start his dream skateboarding company, Tropical by Reefa.
"He didn't die that day," she says. "He's still going on, and he will continue going on."
Israel "Reefa" Herandez's work will be shown during "Genealogy Series," 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Blank Canvas, 46 NW 36th St., #3, Miami.