While protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, continued to vent their anger over the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, South Florida groups came out Thursday to lend their support and to talk about their own frustrations.
At the U. S. attorney’s office in downtown Miami, a group of about 100 civil rights activists walked from the Wolfson campus of the Miami Dade College to the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building to link an ongoing protest over the stun gun death of a Miami graffiti artist, to the shooting death of an unarmed black youth in Missouri.
“We're here because it’s been a year since Israel Hernandez was murdered,” said Steven Pargett, one of the organizers of the Dream Defenders protest march. “And there's been no justice.”
Israel Hernandez-Llach died after being jolted with a stun gun by Miami Beach police officer Jorge Mercado. Critics accuse Mercado of using excessive force and are frustrated that the Miami-Dade state attorney's office hasn’t completed its investigation. They want U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer to get involved.
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“There's an epidemic traveling through our nation,” said another organizer, Sherika Shaw. “It’s our responsibility to stand up and address it.”
Later in the evening, several dozen supporters of the protests in Ferguson gathered at Gwen Cherry Park to add their voice to a nationwide moment of silence over the shooting death of 18-year-old Mike Brown, in Ferguson.
“We're here in solidarity with Mike Brown’s family and the citizens of Ferguson,” said Juan Cuba, one of the speakers. “This issue speaks to basic humanity. If you can get killed just for walking down the street in your neighborhood, that is wrong.”
A mix of young and old gathered in a circle and voiced their frustrations. Individuals took turns speaking and others sat silently, listening. There were no candles, posters, signs or flashes of anger.
Those who spoke encouraged the crowd to educate themselves on how their local government works and to get involved.
The two separate crowds had one thing in common. Frustration over what they see as heavy-handed police tactics that have resulted in the deaths of several young people — including Hernandez-Llach, a teen who was caught tagging a vacant building in Miami Beach and died after he was hit with a Taser stun gun.
The Dream Defenders stood outside the entrance of the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building, chanting “I believe we will win,” and “Fired up, can’t take it no more.” They flashed cellphone cameras at the scene taking place inside its locked front doors.
The loudest cheer came at 6:04 p.m., when an officer placed plastic cuffs around the wrists of eight Dream members who refused to leave the building as ordered after the doors were locked.
Federal authorities didn’t say what the group was charged with, and no one from the U.S. attorney’s office spoke to them.
Organizers said the group visited the justice building on Thursday in the name of Hernandez-Llach and Michael Brown, the unarmed Missouri teen.
The Dream Defenders came to prominence protesting Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in Tallahassee after the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin by security guard George Zimmerman in February of 2012.
Last year, the group held the longest sit-in demonstration in the State Capitol in recent memory.
In addition to Ferguson's Michael Brown, three other young blacks — John Crawford of Denton, Ohio, Eric Garner of New York and Ezell Ford of Los Angeles — have been killed by police in the last month.
“The police have waged war on our communities,” said Phil Agnew, executive director of the Dream Defenders, in a statement. “The lack of justice for Israel Hernandez and others who have fallen at the hands of police are proof that racist police departments around the country will continue to use Black and Brown bodies for target practice. It is time for the federal government to reign in the Miami Beach Police Department, the Ferguson Police Department.”
The following writers contributed to this report: WLRN-Miami Herald News reporter Wilson Sayre, Miami Herald reporter Lance Dixon and freelancer Daysi Calavia-Robertson.