Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Fatal Passion for Street Art

Graffiti artist Diego Becerra, left, shot by Bogotá police in 2008, and Israel Hernandez, right, killed two weeks ago by police in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo: El Tiempo)
The killing of a young Colombian-American graffiti artist by Miami Beach, Florida police last week recalls the killing five years ago of a yong grafitero in north Bogotá.

Both Diego Becerra,17, and Israel Hernandez, 18, were talented graffiti artists. Both were surprised by police while painting walls and killed soon after. Unfortunately, their art is looked upon negatively by many people, and often associated with crime.

Becerra's case has become something of a cause celebre in Bogotá. Initially, police charged that the youth had committed a robbery before they pursued him. But it soon became clear that police had framed Becerra in order to cover up the killing. Since then, three police officers have been charged in the killing and cover up, and two police colonels put under investigation.

For his part, Israel Hernandez was allegedly killed by a Miami Beach taser, a weapon which emits a supposedly paralyzing but non-harmful electric shock. Hernandez's father, who is also named Israel, told W Radio that his son had also been hit on the head. The elder Hernandez vows to see his son's death will be investigated and the guilty punished.

Ironically, the Hernandez family moved to Miami from the sometimes violent La Guajira region because the elder Hernandez had experienced threats, he said. Somewhat ironically, in the radio interview, Hernandez called Miami a city 'where rights are respected.' It will be interesting to see whether Hernandez's case is pursued as thoroughly as Becerra's has been.

Also this week, in the state of Virginia a Colombian woman was also allegedly strangled to death by her American husband, who is now in prison.

The United States was once the land of opportunity for many Colombians: a place where Colombians went to escape their own nation's violence. Today, as Colombia's rates of violence drop and its economy grows, that historic relationship may be shifting.

It's time to change the traditional view of graffiti artists as probable delinquents and criminals. Some people who paint walls are just gang members vandalizing public space. But Hernandez had won awards for his artwork and exhibited in Miami art galleries. While not everything painted onto walls is attractive, or even art, good street art contributes a lot to a city. Putting them into the same category is like
And, I'm certain, many more people get to enjoy a piece of street art than do a painting hidden away in a museum.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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