Murals have been popping across South Florida since the death of local teenager Israel "Reefa" Hernandez. The 18-year-old artist and skater was tagging his name on an abandoned McDonald's in Miami Beach when cops chased him, caught him, and shot him with a Taser. Hernandez died moments later while cops were allegedly high-fiving in celebration of their catch.
The killing sparked outrage from Hernandez's friends and family as well as protests from Miami Beach residents fed up with their police department's recent record of brutality. It also garnered news coverage from Los Angeles to Lima. Reefa's death has also unleashed a wave of street-side homages to him. From murals sprayed on Wynwood's walls to tags scrawled around North Shore and #RIPReefa stickers slapped around the world, the response has gone beyond mere grief. It's proof that the street-art scene Hernandez died for has now come of age.
The first homages to Hernandez appeared a few hours after Miami New Times broke the news. By midnight Wednesday, two messages had appeared on the yellow McDonald's that Hernandez was tagging just before he died. "I'll see you around," one person wrote next to Reefa's uncompleted signature. "Rest in Paradise Israel."
During a protest the next day, hundreds of Hernandez's friends and family members wrote their goodbyes on the same building with chalk. Some even used spray paint, openly defying cops watching from across the street. Soon, the messages began bleeding into the North Shore neighborhood where Reefa died. The blood-red tag "Kopz Kill!" was scrawled in an alley. "Fuck da 5-0" appeared nearby. And a sarcastic "Taze Me Bro!" was splashed on a sign for a Walgreens.
By Friday, mainstream Miami artist GG, a well-known local painter with pieces in galleries, made a mural with the words "Pigs gone wild" and "R.I.P. Reefa" in Wynwood. Next door, street artist 8bitLexicon painted a huge picture of Hernandez's face — only to get hassled by a cop/art critic who declared, "That's not art; it's graffiti."
"We are definitely not trying to start a war with the police," 8bitLexicon explains. "That's the last thing we need... but I think this incident will spur a whole nother generation of street artists. People don't feel this is right."
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A huge "REEFA" mural recently appeared on I-95 south of the Davie Boulevard exit in Broward. Similar tags have shown up on freight cars headed across the country. And one local art teacher has printed more than 8,000 #RIPReefa stickers.
"I had no idea that the demand, the response would be like this," says Jane Simmons, who put up several hundred dollars of her own money to print the initial batch of stickers. She has since received enough donations to send stickers as far away as Australia, Japan, Italy, Portugal, and Mexico.
"It's an organic reaction," she says. "People are angry, and they are using these stickers to show their outrage. They may be in other cities or countries and feel helpless, but putting up these stickers and art is their way of sympathizing with Israel.
"The thing I've heard the most is: 'This could have been me.' "