Miami Beach teen Israel Hernández-Llach died on Tuesday morning at the hands of police officers, who turned a petty crime into a capital offense.
Hernández-Llach was a locally famous painter, sculpture and spray-paint artist, garnering acclaim for his talent and showcasing his work in galleries throughout his community. Yet in a tragedy that highlights the excessiveness of urban police hostility, Israel’s prodigious talent is what ultimately led to his premature death.
Noticing a newly shuttered and unused McDonald’s, Israel seized the opportunity to showcase his work and began “tagging” the vacant building. Indeed, although his graffiti was intended to be decorative rather than vandalistic, his art was legally considered defacement of private property and police were correct to pursue him. The police officers were tragically wrong, however, to pursue him as belligerently as they did.
After chasing Israel for 10 minutes, the police officers pressed him against a wall, shot him in the chest with a taser, and reportedly high-fived each other as his numb body fell to the ground. Taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center soon after the incident by Miami Beach Fire Rescue, 18-year-old Israel passed away at the hospital.
There is no doubt that this result is far more severe than Israel’s crime warranted.
The Miami Beach Police Department’s Chief, Raymond Martinez, has asserted that he and his force stand behind the officers involved, noting that, "during the foot pursuit, the subject encountered officers face to face ... and ignored officers' commands to stop."
But Israel’s failure to cooperate in his arrest is no grounds for an electric shock to the heart, the severity of which was fatal. Posing no realistic physical threat to the police officers, especially when they had him pinned to a wall, Israel was in virtual custody. The ensuing force taken by the police officers was unnecessary, even disregarding its violent ferocity.
Police officers are and ought to be given liberties to protect themselves and to detain dangerous criminals. Yet the ease with which these police officers electrocuted Israel, a tragedy that is far too prevalent, was a vast overreach of their prerogative to defend themselves and their city.
Israel’s family rightfully intends to take legal action against the city for their son’s death, and the ACLU has issued a statement arguing that the officers’ transgressions were not accidents, but plots in a devastating trend. In an official statement, the ACLU charged: “This is the latest in a long, tragic series of incidents in which the Miami Beach Police Department appears to have used excessive, disproportionate or lethal force. Unfortunately, the Miami Beach Police also have a troubling track record of a lack of transparency after such incidents.”
Police officers need to be held accountable when they exercise brute force as opposed to pragmatic law enforcement, especially when an 18-year-old boy dies as a result. Many police officers behave sensibly while relying on their weapons as a last resort. Police officers who opt for aggression when it is clearly unnecessary, as was the case in Israel’s death, undermine those who seek to secure civil stability rather than contribute to violence.