A Community Rally For Israel Hernandez, Teen Killed By Taser.
It’s been a while since the corner of 71st and Collins has seen so much life. Home to a vacant lot, it became a symbol this last weekend of tragic loss and vengeful anger. On a breeze-less Saturday it drew family and friends, sympathizers and activists to the spot that started a chain reaction of events ending in a police taser being discharged and a teen dead.
A small piece of unfinished graffiti by Israel Hernandez turned into a block-long tribute by his mourners. Hand scrawled graffiti honoring their killed comrade known as Reefa, stickers imprinted with the phrase #RIPREEFA, flowers, and heartfelt last letters. Hundreds packed the sidewalk and a street lane the Miami Beach Police had barricaded off for the event and as a walking alternative to the choked sidewalk. A battalion of officers flanked the rally from all sides, including on top of the roofs of several businesses with video recording equipment rolling; some well stocked with zip ties, all the target of verbal venom.
For four hours on Saturday the 10th the rally featured a weepy voice over a bullhorn struggling to finish a testimonial, while most silently listened – many were contributing to a cacophony of enraged rants.
“Miami Beach Police are already under an FBI investigation,” one voice said.
The crowd was decidedly young. Most identified themselves as school mates of Hernandez from Miami Beach High. Some said they didn’t know him well, still their eyes were as watery and red as the friends that did. But they weren’t the only demographics there, many older people made the rally.
“Cowards!” a white haired Hispanic man said in spanish. “Cowards!,” he repeated with an attention-seeking vigor -hoping it would carry to the uniforms across the street.
Antagonizing of the police was exactly what the organizers of this rally wanted to avoid.
Jane Simmons was the lead voice in arranging this past rally. Her mode of choice was Instagram where she drummed support under the handle Spindalis305.
“PLZ PLZ read and repost,” said the caption of one of her posts that depicted an image of a notepad detailing the rally information. “RIP Israel Hernandez tased and killed by Miami Police What the Fuck?!?!,” it continued.
That being said she still wanted the rally to be about Israel and not the police. Before the rally was through she enlisted some of her young artists friends to play crowd patrol, and make sure that the young and angry kids there wouldn’t turn on the police and turn this rally into something violent.
The prevalent logic amongst the crowd was that that was exactly what the police wanted.
She says she has received dozens of emails from people interested in the case.
“People have been contacting me from all over the country, I couldn’t even process the amount of emails I have gotten,” said Simmons at the rally.
She was also the first to finance a set of stickers that read #RIPREEFA, they came in black letters on a white background or white letters on a black background. They are perfect for slapping around town, and an observant eye should catch quite a few.
They are meant to be seen, and in an intentional irony, they are the same petty crime that Hernandez was chased down for.
The MBPD’s version of the story paints a chaotic multi-unit chase of the 18 year old tagger. Prepared by an officer who didn’t use the taser, the report depicts Hernandez as unresponsive to verbal commands, and a subject who came across many dead ends and locked doors in his attempt to flee police.
“Upon reaching the end of the fence line, the subject attempted to jump over the white iron fence utilizing an unknown black object for leverage,” the report says. “The subjects first attempt failed at which time he fell against the fence. The subject got up immediately and attempted to go over the fence a second time.”
The report then says the officer lost visual contact with Hernandez for “2 seconds,” and then heard over the radio dispatch that the subject was in custody.
The exact description of his apprehension is not in the report.
The only mention afterwords is of Hernandez sitting on the ground with his back to the wall. A Fire Rescue was called soon after.
The family called for an independent investigation after his death. One that the city of Miami Beach followed suit, asking for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct the investigation.
“I have complete confidence in the integrity and capacity of the Miami Beach Police Department to conduct a fair and thorough investigation. But the role of the FDLE will provide further assurance to the public of the thoroughness and transparency of the investigation,” said Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales in a city press release.
For good measure the SunPost asked Deputy Police Chief Mark Overton if he found this move was a knock on the MBPD’s ability to conduct a fair investigation. He repeated Morale’s quote of standing behind his police, and said it was quite common to have independent verifications in cases like these.
“From the onset anytime you have a police involved shooting or a police involved incident where there is a death, the State Attorney’s Office assigns an assistant state attorney to the case,” said Overton. “In addition to that you have the medical examiner’s office which is an independent entity.”
Overton said his department asked for the FDLE to come in and review their investigation.
The family’s Lawyer Todd McPharlin said of the investigation: “We see that as a first step in getting the answers that the Hernandez family needs and deserves, and this community deserves.”
The family made a brief appearance at the rally. They walked slowly into the mass of humanity that had arrived there to honor their family and lost son. They held each other. They all carried roses. They all wore big black sunglasses that could not hide the look of horror they had been living the last couple of days.
One woman in the family looked noticeably disturbed when chants went out about the police, about anything that wasn’t their sun. In between sobs she waved off the chants and bitterly commented to another family member that this was not the reason they were here. It was not about other issues, it was about Israel. The woman over exhausted herself, as did other family members when they were once again forced to confront the horrible reality that had been consuming them non-stop; a call for water bottles was made. It was hard on the woman, but it was justified.
The audience was a mix of mourners, and activists. The rally testimonials was being lead by Muhammad Malik, a known local activist known for leading Anti-Iraq war protests, a spokesman for the Occupy Miami movement, an organizer for the Trayvon Martin rally in Downtown Miami, and now this.
Politicians stayed away, so did all candidates except for Steve Berke, who is running for mayor. When he began his short statement he told the media present that he did not give them his permission to use his name. This talk was at a public event with no expectations of privacy.
There was a sour mix in the air over the possibility of this remembrance being hijacked by the wrong people.
Simmons was audibly heard cursing the involvement of “professional protestors” who “do this for a living,” but when the SunPost informally approached her she was grateful for their help in bringing the event together.
In the end only the sister, Offir Hernández, spoke through tears and a wobbly voice:“The family is extremely grateful for all the support you are giving us and my brother, we thank you from the bottom of our heart. Only united can we be strong. For justice and clearness of what has happened.”
The family stood there with what strength they could muster and broke down. They held up roses and hats once worn by Isreal as the crowd chanted. “All hail Reefa. All Hail Reefa.”
Photography By Vala Kodish