Alleging censorship, ACLU sues Miami Beach for removal of painting memorialising the police shooting of Raymond Herisse

Memorial to Raymond Herisse (2019) by Rodney Jackson

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has filed a lawsuit against Miami Beach officials on behalf of the artist Rodney Jackson and the curators Octavia Yearwood and Jared McGriff over the removal of a painting memorialising Raymond Herisse, a Haitian-American who was fatally shot by Miami Beach police in 2011.

The painting was displayed in an exhibition on Lincoln Road forming part of Reframe Miami Beach, a series of art installations commissioned by the city last year to coincide with Memorial Day Weekend that focus on works dealing with race and racial justice issues. The curators say the painting was quickly removed after it was installed at the order of the Miami Beach city manager, Jimmy Morales, and that Morales threatened to shut down the entire exhibition if the painting was not removed.

The lawsuit argues that the Miami Beach mayor, Dan Gelber, and Morales censored Jackson, Yearwood and McGriff, thus violating their First Amendment rights, and that the painting of Herisse, who was shot 16 times after police fired 116 bullets, was “consistent with the citys understanding of the project”.

The complaint also notes Gelbers public comments on his decision to support the removal of the work, which he was asked about during a panel at the Pérez Art Museum Miami in November. The mayor says the work “was a commission work for us and [Morales] said I dont like it and I dont want it, and I frankly supported that decision”.

Gelber adds that racial tensions during previous Memorial Day weekends in Miami Beach prompted the city to attempt to “promote unity” by commissioning the project, but that “in this case it wasnt unifying”. He sided with Morales on the grounds that “we commissioned the work and were buying it, so were going to decide, as the purchaser, whether we want it or not”. However, Gelber acknowledges that “there wasnt great clarity in the discussion” to remove the work.

Herisse was killed while driving on Memorial Day during Miami Beachs Urban Beach Weekend, an event largely attended by black communities that has seen aggressive police enforcement. McGriff says that, in light of the relationship between black people and Miami Beach, especially during that weekend, the exhibition aimed to “spark a crucial conversation about inclusion, blackness, trust and surveillance”.

Jackson says that it was important to include an image of Herisse in the project because his killing was “a benchmark case that changed Miami Beach policy”, including a policy instituted in 2014 that prohibits Miami Beach police from shooting at moving vehicles unless the suspect displays or fires a weapon first. The artist adds that he doesnt understand “how an image meant to memorialise someone could be offensive” to city officials.

The civil rights lawyer Alan Levine, who is working on the suit, says he is “confident that the case violates the First Amendment”. He points to two cases for reference: when the city of Miami attempted to shut down the now-closed Cuban Museum of Arts and Culture for exhibiting work by artists who were not “suffRead More – Source