Will the cop who killed Reefa be allowed to stand his ground too?

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We are reposting this piece from the “Let’s Talk About It!” radio show blog by Subhash Kateel, a Miami comrade, radio show host, and veteran activist.

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Will the cop who killed Reefa be allowed to stand his ground too?

By Subhash Kateel

This past week another young man from Miami with a promising life was cut down needlessly. Another mother is left to mourn her son while spending the next several holidays staring at an empty chair.  Another group of friends will reflect in the past tense about a friend that is no longer with them.  And yet again, another killer will likely walk the street, spend holidays with his family and hang out with his friends.  This time the killer will probably even get his job back…as a Miami Beach Police Officer.

By now you probably know that young man’s name is not Trayvon Martin, it is Israel Henandez-Llach. His friends and Twitter call him Reefa.  He was killed Tuesday after police caught him spray-painting an “R” on the wall of a vacant MacDonald’s in North Beach (where most people are familiar with the building’s abandoned-ness and ugliness).  Several police chased the 18 year-old for ten minutes before catching up to him and tasing him to death, reportedly to avoid “physically restraining him.”

There are plenty of differences between Reefa and the also-needlessly dead Travyon Martin. Reefa was originally from Colombia, Trayvon was born and raised in Miami.  Reefa was 18 when he died, Trayvon was 17. Trayvon’s killer was a neighborhood watchman while Reefa’s killer is Miami Beach Police veteran Jorge Mercado.  Trayvon was never accused of a crime when Zimmerman started following him, Reefa was tagging a vacant building when cops started chasing him, a crime many consider an art form. But the similarities are just as important to note.  Like Trayvon, legions of Miamians loved Reefa.  In both cases, there is plenty in the law to charge and convict the killers of both teenagers, but the system is stacked against either ever seeing a day in prison.  Finally, the way the public responds to both teenagers’ deaths has the potential to change the system so that no young person will ever again meet their fate.

As I have said a million times before, Florida law, however flawed it may be, does not allow a person who provokes a conflict to categorically claim self defense as George Zimmerman did.  He should have never been able to claim he stood his ground.  But the system (the police, prosecutors, judge and jury) never followed the law as it is written. The law In Israel’s case even more clear, yet the system is not used to treating law enforcement officers as if the laws they enforce should ever apply to them.  In other words, officers who act above the law have almost always been allowed to do what Zimmerman did, claim they are standing their ground even when they aren’t.

Florida State law, (the same set of statutes that contain Stand Your Ground) clearly says that an officer is justified in using force in three circumstances:

1. [In] which he or she reasonably believes [it] to be necessary to defend himself or herself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest;

2. When necessarily committed in retaking felons who have escaped; or

3. When necessarily committed in arresting felons fleeing from justice…

The Miami Beach Police Department’s own guidelines say that the first five factors an officer is suppose to consider when using force are:

1. Seriousness of the crime committed;

2. Size, age and weight;

3. Apparent physical ability;

4. Weapons possessed by or available;

5. Known history of violence

Additionally, their guidelines for when an “Electronic Control Device” (X26 Taser) is to be used on humans (as opposed to animals) is limited to when:

a. The subject is not in the physical control of the officer yet posses a threat; (misspelling is theirs, I assume it is meant to read “poses”) 

b. The officer, based on objective reasonableness, perceives an imminent threat of physical force against himself, other persons, property or self-inflicted injury; “

Reefa’s detractors declare that he was a criminal who tagged a privately owned building, however objectively ugly and abandoned it may be, and therefore was asking for it. But the likely crime he was being chased down for was a misdemeanor (punishable by few months in jail and a fine) not a felony as the law kind of indicates it should be if police are going to use force.  Furthermore, by all accounts, Reefa stood about 5 foot 6,weighed 150 pounds and “hardly posed a threat to anyone.”  He had no weapons and no criminal history.  Under no objective measure can it be said that he was a threat to several well-armed police officers who allegedly high-fived each other as his tased body laid dying in the street.

Those are the facts based on the law and on the Miami Beach Police Department’s own policies.  With those facts there is enough evidence for the Miami Dade State Attorney (prosecutor) Katherine Fernandez Rundle to file criminal charges against Officer Jorge Mercado immediately.  There is enough evidence for the US Attorney in Miami (a federal prosecutor)Wilfredo Ferrer  to file Federal criminal charges against Mercado immediately.  There is also enough evidence for the Miami Beach Police Chief, Raymond Martinez, to fire Mercado immediately.  Every minute that goes by that none of these things happen is a minute in which the agencies that are tasked with upholding the law are failing at their jobs.

In the coming weeks there is bound to be a plethora of spin, excuses and justification for why the man who murdered Reefa is not a really murderer, why Reefa is not really a victim and why his killing was not really illegal. People will talk about how safe Tasers are as opposed to real guns, even though over 500 people have been killed by them since 2001, more than have been killed in mass shootings in the same period.  The officers will likely claim that they felt threatened by Reefa, even though their alleged actions seem to indicate the opposite.  Prosecutors will likely say that the law prevents them from charging Mercado, even though the letter of the law disagrees. Lastly, there is bound to be tons of Internet trolls that cast Reefa as a thug and the Cop who killed him as a hero.  The loved ones, friends and supporters of Reefa should acknowledge all of these things for what they are, excuses for murder, and prepare themselves for the long fight for justice.

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