Many hundreds of thousands of people across the country have been streaming into the streets to protest the non-indictment in the police killing of Eric Garner. In New York, hundreds were arrested last night, as thousands flooded the streets and blocked traffic. Meanwhile in Miami, the art world has converged for its annual week of art-fair escapism. In this context, tonight’s protest against police violence, supported by a group of local artists (see “Artists Take to Miami Streets to Protest Michael Brown and Israel Hernandez Killings”), takes on increased significance, linking the cases of Garner, Michael Brown, and Miami Beach street artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez.
The protest, which has been called by the Miami Committee on State Violence, is set for 5 pm this evening in Miami at the corner of NW 36th Street and NW 1st Avenue. Touched off by events in Missouri, the demonstration, which is called #Ferguson2Miami, has gained some momentum after the Garner announcement, with more than 400 people having already RSVP’d to the Facebook invite. It has also gained some notable artistic solidarity from across the country.
Specifically, from St. Louis-based street artist Damon Davis, whose “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” postering campaign has been called the “most powerful street art in America.” Davis has sent a tribute graphic to the protest in honor of Hernandez, featuring the image of a spraycan with the writing “R.I.P. REEFA,” referring to the tag of Hernandez, and a label proclaiming, “Skin is Not a Weapon… Art Is. Fight Back. Ferguson 2 Miami.”
While the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have recently dominated headlines, Hernandez’s case will be less familiar to those outside of Miami. A young and well-liked figure in Miami’s street art scene, Hernandez was pursued by police last year after he tagged an abandoned McDonald’s, dying after being shocked by an officer’s Taser (see the New Times summary, “Israel Hernandez Killing: One Year Later, a Lawsuit But No Answers“). His death sparked protests about the abuse of Tasers by police, and is the subject of the documentary “Tasered: The Israel Hernandez Story.”
According to organizer Tiffany Yeomans-Benford, the location of tonight’s protest in Wynwood was chosen because of its reputation as a hub for area street artists, many of whom knew Hernandez personally. But it also relates to the politics of art and the gentrification of the area.
“You want your art to be seen, you want to be seen as a thriving artist community, but we also ask at what cost?,” explains Yeomans-Benford. “At what cost in terms of the policing of our community, which has become completely heightened since Wynwood became a new hub for Art Basel.”
“We’re really hoping this can be a statement coming from the art community, especially since Israel was an artist,” adds artist Aleksandra Perisic. “This would mean a lot to him. It’s up to the art community to say, ‘We won’t stand by while our people are getting killed.’”
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