The Counted: Graffiti Writers Killed by Police.

By - Friday, August 14th, 2015

A night of bombing can sometimes take an unexpected turn. When the police show up writers can respond in two ways. Most will attempt to run from the cops to avoid an interaction. Others might surrender, exercise their Miranda Rights, and hope for the best.  Although graffiti is a misdemeanor and considered a “quality of life” violation in most states, there are many cases when cops have used excessive force to detain writers. Unfortunately some of these cases end in tragedy. In the past two years, three writers have been killed by police. Hector Morejon, Delbert “Demz” Rodriguez, and Israel “Reefa” Hernandez were all killed shortly after their interactions with police for non-violent offences.  

The stories of Morejon, Rodriguez, and Hernandez, didn’t gain the same national media attention as other stories about killer cops. In fact, many stories of police killings are only heard in the communities they occurred in.  The Guardian’s new project “The Counted” is trying to record and share these stories. “The Counted” is a database of the people who have been killed by police or law enforcement in the United States throughout 2015. The U.S. government only reports deaths that are voluntarily submitted to the FBI, which gives police departments the choice to send in their reports of justifiable homicides. Many departments choose not to send them. From 2005-2012 only 1,100 out of 18,000 police departments sent in justifiable homicide reports to the FBI. That’s six percent. “The Counted” is a response to that lack of reporting. The database allows users to filter the deaths by state, gender, race, and cause of death. As of Thursday, 690 people had been killed by police in the U.S. during 2015.  147 of the 690 of the people killed by police this year were unarmed. All three graffiti writers that were killed in the past three years were also unarmed. Their stories are just a few examples of the results of policing with unnecessary force.

On April 23rd of this year in Long Beach CA, 19-year-old Hector Morejon was shot when Officer Jeffrey A. Meyer thought Morejon was holding a gun towards him. Officer Meyer was responding to a report of trespassing and vandalism in a vacant apartment. No weapons were found at the scene of the crime, but graffiti was found on the walls of the residence. The shooting put Morejon in critical condition and he died shortly after being admitted to the hospital. According to “The Counted” 64 of the 147 unarmed justifiable homicide victims were killed by gunshots.

On December 5th 2014, 21-year-old Miami graffiti artist Delbert “Demz” Rodriguez was killed while being chased by the Miami Vandal Squad. Detective Michael Cadavid reportedly ran over Demz on accident while turning a corner, and was unable to see Demz since he was low on the ground wearing dark clothing. However, Demz’ friend Danny Garcia, who was with Demz during the night of his death, said that Demz was not hiding and that the cop deliberately ran him over.  It was also revealed that Cadavid had a previous record of abusive policing. According to “The Counted”, 23 of 147 unarmed justifiable homicide victims were killed after being struck by law enforcement vehicles.

On August 6th 2013, 18-year-old Miami teenager Israel Hernandez died when he was shot in the chest by a Taser. Hernandez was being chased by officers after attempting to put up his tag “Reefa” on an abandoned McDonald’s building.  Officer Jorge Mercado shot Hernandez with his Taser because Hernandez refused to stop running. The medical examiner confirmed that the cause of Hernandez’s death was cardiac arrest which was caused by getting shot with the Taser.  “The Counted” has reported that 32 of 147 of unarmed justifiable homicide victims this year were killed by a Taser.

American policing has been under heavy criticism in the past year, especially after the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. However, these were not the only incidents where police interactions went wrong. These deadly interactions with police are happening all across America. “The Counted” death toll has been growing every week, showing us that these incidents are not uncommon.  What “The Counted” reveals to us is that there is a problem with the use of lethal force in U.S. policing. Instead of arresting and putting suspects to trial, law enforcement agents have become the judge, jury, and executioner.





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