An emotionally-charged rally has been held at the site where 18-year-old Miami graffiti artist Israel Hernandez-Llach was shot with a Taser gun, dying shortly after.
Hundreds of friends, supporters and relatives of the teenager gathered at the spot where the teenager was spray-painting a shuttered McDonald’s restaurant before being chased by police – an incident that resulted in his death shortly after being tasered by the officers after refusing to stop running.
Around 400 people were present at the Saturday rally in Hernandez-Llach’s honor, many of them booing and whistling at police officers standing nearby. They shouted “Whose streets? Our streets!”
The victim’s father, Israel Hernandez-Bandera spoke to Reuters, calling Israel’s death an “act of barbarism” and an “assassination of a young artist and a photographer.”
Hernandez-Llach’s female friend and former classmate, Lucy Rynka, had touching words to say about him: “he was a genius… He showed me how powerful art can be, how you can use color and design to relay a powerful message.”
Another person present at the scene – Vivian Azalia, also 18 – spoke with tears in her eyes.
“The only thing I want everyone to remember is his goal was to have his art around the world… I know he’d be happy with the support that’s come from around the world and from the graffiti community,” she said.
Hernandez-Llach was not unknown – his works could be seen in some of Miami’s art galleries.
Raymond Martinez, chief of the Miami Beach Police, claims that Hernandez-Llach would not stop running after police caught him spray-painting private property and ordered him to stop.
According to the Miami Herald, anonymous law enforcement sources say Officer Jorge Mercado was placed on administrative leave with pay on Thursday, two days after he discharged his Taser at Hernandez-Llach following a brief foot pursuit.
After the arrest, Hernandez-Llach’s medical condition quickly deteriorated and he was pronounced dead shortly after, the police chief said. The cause of death has not yet been established with the toxicology results pending.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as well as the state attorney and the medical examiner, will conduct an independent investigation of the Miami Beach Police Department’s handling of the teen’s death, officials said.
Miami Beach Police Department is no stranger to scrutiny, given its string of improper conduct and shootings in the past years, among them the death of a 22-year-old man two years ago. He was shot a total of 16 times by police officers at a Memorial Day weekend hip-hop music festival.
The family’s attorney, Jason W. Kreiss, said that the teen would likely not even have been prosecuted for the offense of spray-painting, and instead probably would have faced a few hours of community service.