Miami Police Department That Fatally Ran Over Graffiti Artist Debuts Sweet New Graffiti Car

Miami Police Department That Fatally Ran Over Graffiti Artist Debuts Sweet New Graffiti Car
Miami Police Department
Miami Police Department
In 2014, Miami Police officers chased a 21-year-old graffiti artist named Demz who was tagging a wall in Wynwood during Art Basel. During the pursuit, the cops ran over the artist, killing him. The officer who ran Demz over, who just happened to be the son of a longtime Miami cop and State Attorney's Office investigator, was never criminally charged or disciplined. And in the years since, MPD has never apologized for needlessly chasing and killing a street artist; a group of graffiti artists at one point called for anti-MPD protests over the whole affair.

Flash forward to this week and the same police department is unveiling a totally sick new cop car covered in graffiti art from local Cuban-American street-artist ABSTRK, because MPD is apparently totally hip, with-it, and chill!

Will the cops inside still arrest people caught tagging walls? You sure bet they will, but hey, look at how cool this car is!!!!
Obviously, we're kidding with that last bit: The car also has custom rims and a powerful new stereo system, which are exactly the sort of accessories that cops around the country regularly use as a pretext to racially profile black and brown people. Just last Memorial Day, Miami's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) complained that an anti-loud-car crackdown in Miami Beach was racist.

Reached via phone, Wynwood Commander Dan Kerr said he was aware of the traditional antipathy between Miami's street-art community and the local police department — he told New Times he commissioned the car to bring the two sides closer together. He said he doesn't feel it's particularly useful for his cops to drive around in circles busting street artists left and right, and that Wynwood cops have ramped down their plainclothes or undercover graffiti enforcement in the years since the Demz killing.

"If the cops weren’t out there enforcing, would that not have happened?" Kerr asked rhetorically. "That's a fair argument. I see it. But then should we not do something like this [car]? What course should we take? The only way to have a dialogue between the two communities is to do things like this."

He then rattled off meeting after meeting he's had with various artists throughout Wynwood. Kerr said he was sympathetic to the fact that burgeoning street artists usually need to develop followings by illegally tagging buildings before they can move into selling legal art or commissioning sanctioned murals. Kerr says he'd rather coordinate with local street artists than bust them constantly. But, of course, you can certainly still get arrested for illegal tagging in Wynwood.

"What I’d like that cop to do is, if you see a kid painting, go up to them and ask, 'Can I look at your Instagram?'" he said. "What that shows to me is that those cops know that guy’s name, and if we do need to reach out to someone in the future, we can call them and explain maybe that it wasn't cool to have tagged this business or that. The officers will never stop vandalism enforcement, but you're also never going to arrest your way out of that problem."

At the same time, MPD is ultraresponsive to the wishes of local business owners, who often call MPD to complain about taggers spraying on their walls. After the Demz killing in 2014, the Miami Herald noted that Wynwood's business owners have a habit of calling graffiti complaints into MPD — especially if taggers spray over legally "commissioned" street art.

MPD unveiled the new car yesterday to support the National Night Out, a national pro-cop rally designed to showcase police might across America and dissuade criminals from doing various crimes. The Night Out is a national street fair where officers are treated as heroes. Miami's Night Out included food, music, activities for kids — and the totally rad art-car — at Roberto Clemente Park on NW 34th Street.

Kerr also tweeted out a picture of the car next to a Star Wars mural:
According to the Miami Herald, which breathlessly called the vehicle "Miami's coolest cop car" earlier this week, Commander Kerr said police commissioned the car because "Wynwood is about street art." He added that local businesses and community groups donated about $8,000 worth of custom gear, including the rims and speakers. The Herald even photographed the car next to a wall covered in straight-up, old-school graffiti, which MPD is still legally obligated to arrest you for tagging.

That's exactly what happened to Demz. The artist, whose real name was Delbert Rodriguez, stopped into Wynwood during Art Basel on December 4, 2014, to tag a wall on NW Fifth Avenue. When he saw the lights of an undercover MPD cop car driven by Officer Michael Cadavid, Rodriguez fled, and seconds later wound up hit and dying in the road. Police claimed that Rodriguez had somehow jumped in front of Cadavid's car, but another witness told New Times that the "whole story they gave is baloney."

Because Cadavid's father, George Cadavid, worked as an investigator for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, they asked the Ninth Judicial Circuit to investigate the case instead; they ruled there was no evidence Cadavid ran Demz over and suggested that Demz's injuries instead came when he fell while fleeing, perhaps after light contact with the cruiser. But the report also noted that witnesses on the scene said Cadavid did actually run Rodriguez over, and at least one witness said the body was left underneath the car for at least 30 minutes afterward. Cadavid's internal affairs file showed he had a history of road-rage complaints and other alleged incidents of aggression.

Rodriguez's family sued MPD in county court. Records show the case was settled in June 2016 on undisclosed terms.

"My son was struck by an irresponsible undercover cop, for painting on a wall," Rodriguez's mother, Nannette Kaniaris, told New Times in 2014. She also said her son's partner was pregnant with a little girl when he was killed.

Last Sunday also marked five years since neighboring Miami Beach Police fatally Tasered 18-year-old graffiti artist Israel "Reefa" Hernandez after finding him tagging a small piece of art. Miami Beach paid a $100,000 legal settlement to Hernandez's family in October 2017.

Local activists held a memorial and protest for Hernandez on Sunday:

For real graffiti artists, who risk arrest to post tags around town, Wynwood's rapid, street-art-led gentrification has been frustrating. Real-estate developers pay top dollar to established artists such as Obey's Shepherd Fairey for murals while loudly complaining about — and calling the cops on — local taggers. Now, Miami's anti-graffiti-enforcement unit is co-opting street art.

Given the bizarre dichotomy here, New Times asked the actual artist, former tagger ABSTRK, via email how he felt about voluntarily painting a cop car with his work — especially since a tagging crew known as "Anonymous Street Crew" in 2014 called for anti-MPD protests dubbed "Operation Demz Revenge." ABSTRK has yet to respond via email. The artist only seems to have posted an obscure shot of the vehicle to his Instagram page without noting that he was painting a cop car:


A post shared by ABSTRK (@abstrk) on

Don't get it twisted: Miami cops will still arrest the hell out of you if they catch you tagging graffiti, especially if it's on the ever-so-expensive building facades in Wynwood. If anything, ABSTRK helped give one new Miami car some Wynwood camouflage.

Correction: This story originally misreported George Cadavid's role at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. He works as an investigator for the agency.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.