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'To Avoid Physical Incident,' Cops Taser and Kill Teenage Graffiti Artist

17-year-old boy dies after Miami police officers shoot him in chest with so-called "non-lethal" weapon

Jon Queally, staff writer

Proving once again the misapplied "non-lethal" label for taser weapons, police in Miami are under severe criticism following the death of an unarmed teenage boy who was killed this week when officers made chase after he was spotted painting graffiti on an abandoned McDonald's building.

As the Miami Herald reports:

At just 17, Israel Hernandez-Llach was already an award-winning artist, on the threshold of acclaim in Miami Beach art circles. He was a sculptor, painter, writer and photographer whose craft was inspired by his home country of Colombia and his adopted city, Miami.

He was also a graffiti artist, known as “Reefa,” who sprayed colorful splashes of paint on the city’s abandoned buildings while playing cat-and-mouse with cops, who, like many, consider graffiti taggers to be vandals, not artists.

It was while spray-painting a shuttered McDonald’s early Tuesday morning that Hernandez-Llach was chased down by Miami Beach police and shot in the chest with a Taser. He later died.

Friends and family of the boy were saddened and outraged, with one friend telling the Miami New Times, "I just cant believe it. I still have his hat and his [skate]board. They still smell like him. It's crazy."

His family says that Israel "lived and breathed" his artwork and lived a healthy lifestyle.

"That's all he did, all day long," his sister, Offir Hernandez, told Miami's Local 10 news, referring to his painting.

Hernandez said her brother wanted to make art that would change the world. "He was a boy that could dream more than anybody could think. His life was about art."

Critics of the growing and rampant use of taser weapons by police departments nationwide have warned for years that labeling these weapons as "non-lethal" was a mistake. Though police say tasers are used to prevent the necessity of "deadly force" by officers the number of fatalities related to their use has continued to grow.

"Tasers are not the 'non-lethal' weapons they are portrayed to be," said Angela Wright, a US researcher at Amnesty International and author of a report on the controversial proliferation of the weapons. "They can kill and should only be used as a last resort."

She continued, "The problem with Tasers is that they are inherently open to abuse, as they are easy to carry and easy to use and can inflict severe pain at the push of a button, without leaving substantial marks."

Additionally, ask those concerned about tasers, why is it appropriate for multiple officers to deploy such a weapon against a cornered teenager?

Asked by the news station if she thought the Miami police went to far, his sister answered: "My brother is dead isn't he? Of course they went too far. He didn't come home yesterday. The police did."


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