Eyes around the art world were on Miami Friday night as protesters fed up with police injustice shut down Art Basel. At its peak, over 600 demonstrators flooded the busy streets of Wynwood, chanting and blocking traffic. Traffic came to a grinding halt as protesters took over Interstate 195 and nearby surface roads.
Demonstrators came from around the city and around the country for different reasons but all stood in solidarity calling for an end to police brutality. Dozens of protesters convened on the corner of NW 36th St and NW 1st Ave at 5 pm Friday afternoon. A heavy police presence was already in the area for Art Basel had several roads already blocked. News station vans lined the curb with several news helicopters and police choppers hovering overhead.
Art Basel received a jolt as protesters marched down the streets, sometimes with arms linked, using bullhorns to lead raucous chants while others displayed signs with various messages. Several people wore Anonymous masks, a popular hacktivist group. One masked man had the Anonymous flag waving proudly as he marched through the city streets.
In conjunction with the lack of an indictment in Ferguson for the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, and a similar lack of indictment in the death of Eric Gardner, protesters in Miami shut down Art Basel “fed up” with the impunity that law enforcement police minority communities. The rash of police-involved shootings of minorities hits home in Miami. Last year, Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, was tasered to death by Miami Beach police officer Jorge Mercado. Hernandez was tagging an abandoned McDonalds when officers encroached on him. After a brief pursuit, he was tasered by Mercado and died shortly after. No charges were ever filed and an investigation with the attorney general is still pending.
Miami police were pretty calm and cooperative, even at heated moments when protesters would face authorities and chant, “No Justice, no peace. No racist police.” Officers did not try to break up the crowd but rather focused on directing traffic after road closures. Luis Cabrera, Miami Police Deputy Chief, said that the protests were peaceful.
The shutdown came as approximately 75,000 descended on Miami’s art district for Art Basel. Highways and surface streets cane to a grinding halt. Some drivers were supportive even honking their horns and cheering. Many other drivers were not as pleased.
A surgeon, who asked to remain unidentified, exited his vehicle on I-195 during the gridlock and walked to some of the protesters complaining. He received chants back in response. The man then went to Florida Highway Patrol and he was advised by police that the protesters had the right to demonstrate and he would just have to wait it out. In the background, demonstrators conveniently yelled, “Shut it down!”
Another driver delivering medication to senior citizens was trapped by the peaceful mob. He was extremely frustrated waving his hands in exasperation. He said it was not fair and demonstrators echoed the sentiments right back agreeing that it is not fair but for different reasons. He was eventually allowed to pass but the car behind him was forced to make a U-turn.
Per Matheau Moore, protestor, one driver became increasingly aggressive revving his engine and advancing on the crowd before jolting to a stop. He repeated these actions several times before Moore and a Dream Defender placed themselves in front of the car eyeing the driver.
Many supporters climbed out of their cars or rolled their windows down camera phones out witnessing the historical event. Some even climbed on the roofs of their cars watching the spectacle. One woman, dressed in a business suit, stepped out of her car, hand to mouth, sobbing happily as she recorded the demonstration.
Protestors came across Black Entertainment Television’s venue for Art Basel. The demonstrators swarmed the gates and chanted “Black lives matter.” One group began rocking the barricade before security arrived. Other protesters yelled out “Black Evil Television.”
At an intersection in Wynwood’s Art Basel, protesters staged a die-in, symbolizing the four and half agonizing hours Michael Brown laid in the street dying from the hands of Darren Wilson. Demonstrators laid in the middle of the street for four and a half minutes in complete silence.
Roughly around 9 pm, the protest ended where it began, on the corner of NW 36th and NW 1st Ave. Hundreds of people crowded the intersection and sat down holding hands. Words of encouragement and support were expressed and an invitation to the next protest to be held Dec. 7 extended. The ACLU, Dream Defenders, and Occupy Miami Twitter accounts were ablaze with updates on the protest including video and pictures. Occupy Miami even live streamed the whole event. Miami protesters succeeded in shutting it down as one Art Basel patron after another was inconvenienced by traffic. Matthew Wolfson said that if their biggest issue was traffic to get to an art exhibit, than the inconvenience speaks to their “white privilege.”
By Stevenson Benoit