Police

Miami Activist Routinely Flips Off, Berates Miami Cops for the Sake of Who Knows What

Rafael Gomez films outside a Miami-Dade County School Board meeting.
Rafael Gomez films outside a Miami-Dade County School Board meeting. Screenshot via YouTube
Last month, police-filming provocateur Rafael Antonio Gomez recorded his interaction with Miami law enforcement deteriorate — as it often does — into a questionable detainment, sophomoric name-calling, and Gomez giving police a firm middle finger on camera.

The incident starts off innocuously, with Gomez and his partner Joey Lopez approaching a City of Miami patrol officer parked in his police vehicle near 47th Avenue and NW 7th Street. Gomez AKA Ragomonkey tells the officer, a stout, wide-eyed man with a shiny shaven head, "You're blocking traffic sir." Not amused, the officer demands to see the duo's IDs before slapping handcuffs on them and placing them in the back of his patrol vehicle.

After Gomez and Lopez are released, they question the officer about why they were detained, prompting him to quip, "Because I wanted to. Thank you." Gomez flips off the policeman and calls him "Uncle Fester," a reference to the barrel-shaped, hunched-over bald character from the Addams Family. When he accuses the officer of breaking his phone, the policeman responds by imitating a crying baby.

Gomez and Lopez describe themselves as "Miami government accountability activists."

Their footage of the incident, entitled "Unhinged Cop Goes Hands On and Demands ID," adds to an ever-growing catalogue of videos on their social media channels, where they showcase their testy interactions with Miami-area police from various agencies.

The effort is part of the popular First Amendment auditing community, which aims to record police officers and other government employees while testing their knowledge of constitutional rights. Videos of the encounters wind up on YouTube or Tik Tok with titles like "Silly Cop Doesn't Respect the First Amendment" or "Cops Get Educated."

First Amendment auditors say they are making videos to educate the public, but some have been accused of purposefully provoking negative responses for financial gain or to go viral online. The encounters frequently turn heated and confrontational, occasionally violent.

While Carlos Miller, a local photographer and creator of police accountability website Photography Is Not a Crime, does not agree with all of Ragomonkey's tactics, he appreciates what auditors are trying to accomplish. Miller created his site in 2007 after he refused to stop filming a group of Miami police officers on Biscayne Boulevard.

"They come across a lot more obnoxious than I ever did, and they may even be doing it for views," Miller tells New Times. "I am not sure what their intent is, but they're also serving the purpose in educating citizens on their rights. People are using YouTube to police the police."

Many of Gomez's videos showcase his encounters with employees in public buildings including the Miami-Dade County Courthouse and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. When staff tell him he cannot walk around and film because of privacy concerns, as in one video at the public defender's office, Gomez claims they do not grasp the scope of the First Amendment and that his rights are being disrespected. The videos draw a bevy of online comments criticizing the officials for not understanding the law.

FIU College of Law professor Howard Wasserman tells New Times that while there is a general right to film in public spaces, some government offices may be off limits.

"It depends on who, what and where they're recording," Wasserman says. "The thing about First Amendment rights in any speech is there's a certain amount of balancing that goes on. You consider sort of countervailing government interests, and whether or not those government interests are strong enough to overcome the interest in expression."

Wasserman explains the public defender's office concerns are legitimate because "having random people in there with cameras potentially could cause them to unintentionally waive or lose attorney-client privilege."
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First Amendment activist Rafael Gomez flips his signature middle finger at a City of Miami officer.
Screenshot via YouTube
Miller warns that "any miscalculation" on the part of Gomez and Lopez could "get them thrown in jail for a very long time." He also fears inflammatory tactics may not win people over in understanding the mission behind filming the police.

"They are putting their own lives at risk," Miller says. "It is a very dirty system unfortunately so we need people like these guys to kind of keep [police] honest. The fact that these guys are in their faces, well that's very transparent."

University of Miami School of Law professor Caroline Corbin notes that the auditors' intentions do not matter even if they are acting in bad faith. "People use the First Amendment in bad faith all the time," Corbin says. "That doesn't mean we shouldn't have its protections."

Though these videos are meant to capture unprofessional behavior and misconduct among police and public employees, Gomez is often the one hurling insults.

In one video, Gomez flips off two female Miami Beach officers while they are working a traffic stop. He then says, "These chicks now on PMS," in reference to their menstrual cycles. Another video shows Gomez flipping off a group of officers on bike patrol in Wynwood. He says in the video, "Eat a dick, you faggot."

After their encounter with the officer lovingly dubbed "Uncle Fester," Gomez and Lopez decided to walk to a Miami police station "to peacefully protest the crooked Miami Police Department." Gomez tells one woman working the desk at the station and a female sergeant that they both have "RBFs," or "resting bitch faces." He then tells the sergeant she needs an "attitude adjustment" — and Lopez adds the City of Miami Police Department "has earned the hate."

The duo's approach to dealing with police is in step with their former filming partner and mentor, Jay Lopez of Jay's Surreal Camera, who earned praise in the auditing community for his uncompromising attitude when recording police.

Jay, who passed away in October, was Joey's brother. Explaining his approach to auditing, Jay once said that speaking firmly and not backing down when challenging police on camera is essential because showing fear can embolden officers to lash out or detain an auditor.

In some police circles, Gomez and Lopez have been labeled as agitators. A video from November shows an on-duty Miami Beach Police officer telling the pair, "There is a difference between recording and accountability — that is no problem, but you guys agitate. That's the issue."

In an order dismissing a federal lawsuit Gomez brought against the Miami-Dade Police Department over a May 2020 traffic stop, the judge stated that Gomez had a "'Law Enforcement Officer agitator alert' in the Miami-Dade system and an 'approach with caution' designation" due to a previous arrest for illegally carrying a concealed firearm.

Gomez's videos have also elicited controversy through his derogatory comments in connection with LGBTQ issues. Last year, he called "it fucking weird" that the Miami-Dade School Board was voting on whether to recognize LGBTQ history month in county schools. He made another video at the North Miami Police Department's Pride Event in June, which he called "a waste of government resources."

"The government is not supposed to be supporting pride. They got the pride flag right there, but if we put a 'Don't Tread on Me' flag everybody would be going crazy," he adds. "People playing politics with your money."

He then goes on to ask a cop if his horse is an "LGBT horse" or a "regular horse."

Gomez and Lopez both declined New Times' requests for an interview.

"I'm a civil rights activist," Lopez said via email. "My video speaks for itself."
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Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein

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