Hundreds of protesters marched through Miami streets Friday evening and onto Interstate-195, jamming the highway, Midtown and Wynwood for hours as part of a national response to police-involved killings.
The Shut It Down rallies, which broke out this week from coast to coast, followed the recent decisions of grand juries in New York and Ferguson, Mo., not to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men. In Miami, protesters also remembered local teen and graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez Llach, who died more than a year ago when he was Tasered by Miami Beach police following a foot chase.
The Miami event began at about 5 p.m. in Midtown at Northwest 36th Street and First Avenue, where a mostly young, multi-cultural crowd of dozens, some in Guy Fawkes masks, silently gathered and then grew in numbers and volume. A crowd numbering several hundred walked down the street, onto an on-ramp and up into traffic on Interstate-195, which leads to and from Miami Beach.
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“Shut it down! Shut it down!” they chanted.
Waving “Brutality” banners and signs bearing Hernandez Llach’s face, they stood arm-in-arm and blocked east- and west-bound lanes, the latter clogged for miles back onto Miami Beach. One man with a sign that said “Black lives matter” pressed his sign up against idle car and bus windows as he passed by.
A cadre of Florida Highway Patrol and Miami police stood by and watched in the blue and red of flashing police lights.
Earlier in the day, another graffiti artist had been taken to the hospital after being struck by a police car during a chase.
Friday’s march was the first incident of post-Ferguson protest in Miami, a city known more for cocktails and parties than activism, at least in recent years. The rally, organized on Facebook, drew national media attention along with rallies in Washington D.C., New York and Chicago, where traffic was also intentionally gridlocked. In terms of garnering attention, it was perfectly timed to disrupt Miami amid Art Basel and scores of satellite fairs.
The rally was embraced by some who were inconvenienced.
“I understand it. I agree with it,” said Betty Hechavarria, who was late for a nail appointment and running out of gas.
After about an hour, the group marched briskly back onto Biscayne Boulevard and again through Midtown, continuing to block traffic while chanting “Reefa lives.” Marchers mostly shut down Midtown and then Wynwood, where bemused Baselers snapped photos and gallery owners watched from their shops.
In front of a BET party, the group shouted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” a phrase that emerged after Michael Brown was shot dead in a conflict with a Ferguson officer. Around 8 p.m., scores simply laid down on North Miami Avenue in silence for close to five minutes.
“We’re out here to let people know that there are people here who care about this issue,” said Ernisha Randolph, an African American and director of social action for the Woodson Institute in Miami. “It’s only a matter of time before this situation hits home for us.”
Hashim Benford, a member of the Power U Center, addressed the crowd as the protest ended, saluting the large turnout.
“Miami has never been shut down like we shut it down,” Benford said. “Tonight we shut down Art Basel.”
He added: “Tonight is not the end. If we’re satisfied with this [showing], there will be more Reefas, more Michael Browns, more Trayvons.”