Michael Brown was stopped for jaywalking and wound up dead. Eric Garner was stopped for selling untaxed cigarettes and wound up dead. Hopefully we won't have to add Delbert Rodriguez Gutierrez to this death list—the 21-year-old graffiti artist is merely in critical condition after being struck by an unmarked cop car pursuing him for tagging a Miami building.
Update: Florida activist organization The Dream Defenders was reporting earlier today that Gutierrez has been taken off life-support, but this now appears to be false. I have tried reaching out to Gutierrez's family for more information, and will update accordingly.
According to The Miami Herald, Guiterrez—known in the Miami street art world as Demz—was hospitalized with a severe brain injury after the December 5 incident, when Gutierrez was spotted by members of the Miami Police Department's (MPD) "gang unit" while spray-painting a building. Gutierrez fled when he saw the officers, turning a street corner and hiding between two cars. "As Miami police Detective Michael Cadavid turned the corner, police said, Rodriguez jumped out from between the cars and was struck by the detective's vehicle," the Herald reports.
The black box in Cadavid's vehicle (which measures things such as how fast the car was going) will be inspected, MPD says. Neither Cadavid nor his car had a camera.
There are some who will argue that Gutierrez's case is not like Brown's or Garner's—that jaywalking and selling cheap cigarettes are victimless crimes that it's silly to spend time chasing, while protecting private property from defacement is a legitimate goal of community policing. But context matters. According to art mag Hyperallergic, "Gutierrez had been tagging a building in the heart of Wynwood, an industrial district that's become a popular destination for graffiti writers and street artists over the last decade. Last week Wynwood was full of street artists in town to create new murals as part of Wynwood Walls, coinciding with Art Basel Miami Beach."
While some of Art Basel's street artists are sanctioned, the festival attracts lots of art and tagging from unathorized folks, too. In the past few years, MPD has been deploying its gang unit during Art Basel to catch rogue street artists. According to NBC South Florida, it's unclear whether Rodriguez had permission to tag the building.
But whatever you think about police pursuing Gutierrez in the first place, there's no disputing that comments from Miami cops afterward show a nasty sort of mindset wherein any outcome is justified if someone disobeys authority. Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa told the Herald that what happened was tragic, but: "It's unfortunate that the young man tried to run from police."
Miami police union President Javier Ortiz repeated the same sentiment to Gutierrez's mom, Nannette Kaniaris, who said Ortiz offered to buy her dinner after this little lecture. Ortiz later told the Herald he stood by those comments:
"I understand she is extremely upset, and rightfully so, and that her son is in the hospital," Ortiz said by text. "However, for every action there's a reaction. If he would have not been committing a crime and then running from law enforcement, this could have been avoided. Her son is in our prayers."
Earlier in the day Gutierrez was hit, activists had marched through Wynwood in remembrance of not just Michael Brown and Eric Garner but also 18-year-old Israel "Reefa" Hernandez-Llach, a street artist who was killed by Miami Beach police in 2013. Reefa was spray-painting an abandoned McDonald's building when he was chased down and Tased to death by Beach police. His family has since filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force and failure to provide proper medical attention afterward.