Police

Free Speech Auditing Community Shaken by Death of Miami Activist Jay Lopez

Jay Lopez traveled around the country to record police and government employees on the job.
Jay Lopez traveled around the country to record police and government employees on the job. Screenshot via Joe Cool YouTube
Jay Michael Lopez had been gaining a devoted following as a Miami-based free-speech activist and YouTube personality over the past year. He recorded dozens of tense interactions with cops, government clerks, and “Karens,” in which he'd challenge their understanding of his right to film in public.

The 39-year-old gradually learned the ins and outs of Florida public records law and the legal boundaries of recording public officials, while police departments across South Florida learned to deal with him and his ever-present insistence on filming them on the clock.

"I always film the police! Know your rights!" he declared on his YouTube page, Jay's Surreal Camera.

On the evening of October 14, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue found Lopez in a deteriorating state in a residential complex in the Miami Gardens area, according to police records. His girlfriend told first responders that he had taken a blue 30-milligram pill, and then had fallen asleep for a few minutes.

After determining he had overdosed, fire rescue rushed Lopez across the county line to Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines, where he was placed on life support.

Lopez died on October 25.

A medical examiner's report, recently obtained via a public records request, found that his cause of death was a mixture of fentanyl, cocaine, amphetamine, and benzodiazepine.

Jay's older brother, Joey, said the loss has been unbearable for his extended Cuban family.

"My little brother Jay was absolutely the best brother," Joey said in a statement. "He was the best father, also very loving and very caring. And he always helped me out when I was in my downfalls."

San Joaquin Valley Transparency, another First Amendment auditor, posted condolences on Jay's channel, saying the Miami activist "never spoke ill of anyone." The message noted that Jay traveled around the country to do guest appearances on San Joaquin Valley Transparency and other auditors' channels.

"He was a positive person. He showed me and my sons a tremendous amount of love and support," the message says.

A muscular 39-year-old with facial tattoos and piercings, Jay Lopez had a no-holds-barred approach to confronting police on camera. He would challenge officers' authority and occasionally ridicule them when he found they didn't know the law.

"Who the hell you think you are flashing your light at?" Jay says in one video after a Lee County police officer shines a flashlight at him and asks him to move away from the scene of a traffic stop.

"I didn't break any laws, so mind your own business and shut up and do your job!" he exclaims.

Jay was part of the First Amendment auditing movement, which aims to record police and public employees while pressing them on their grasp of constitutional rights and state law.

Depending on how provocative their tactics are, First Amendment auditors can be labeled as agitators by local police departments.

Joey, who grew up with Jay in Miami, said he feels a duty to carry on his brother’s legacy by continuing to make First Amendment auditing videos. He has an eponymously named channel that features his exchanges with local police, using the hard-nosed stance championed by his late brother. The brothers had filmed several videos together before Jay's death.

“I introduced him into watching First Amendment audit videos on YouTube and... shortly after watching videos, a little over [a] couple of weeks, he opened up his YouTube channel, and that’s when Jay's Surreal Camera was born,” Joey said.

Aside from needling cops, Jay Lopez got under the skin of locals as an artist at the Made-in-Dade Tattoo Studio in Wynwood, where he specialized in “black and grey realism tattoos." He had intricate, sharp designs and versatile imagery in his portfolio.

Jay's YouTube remains active with more than 50,000 followers. Many continue to leave their condolences.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) spokesperson Erin Knight-Grimming tells New Times that the agency’s Miami office warned last July of an alarming increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in Florida. 

Knight-Grimming says the DEA has issued a new public safety alert as tests show 60 percent of fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills in the country contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 107,622 people died by drug poisoning in the United States in 2021; a majority of those deaths were attributed to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported 8,411 opioid‐related deaths in the state last year, a seven percent year-over-year increase.

As part of the DEA's fake-pill awareness campaign, Knight-Grimming is urging the public to check out the agency’s initiative at the "One Pill Can Kill Campaign" website.
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Freelancer Theo Karantsalis is a San Francisco native who lovingly served Miami’s Black community for many years as an offbeat librarian. He speaks softly and carries a big pen.
Contact: Theo Karantsalis

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