The appeal comes in response to the court decision that favored City of Miami Beach officials after they removed a portrait of Raymond Herisse, a Haitian-American man who was fatally shot by City police.
MIAMI BEACH, FL - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, the ACLU of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter, and the law firm Valiente, Carollo & McElligott, PLLC filed an appeal of the decision in the case of four individuals – Octavia Yearwood, Jared McGriff, and Naiomy Guerrero, art curators, and Rodney Jackson, an artist. The lawsuit alleged that the First Amendment right to free speech was violated by the City of Miami Beach when the City Manager ordered the removal of Jackson’s painting depicting Raymond Herisse, a Haitian-American man who was fatally shot by Miami Beach Police in 2011. The City Manager had deferred to the wishes of City police officers, who objected to the painting. The civil rights groups filed the lawsuit in 2020 and the decision ruled in favor of the City of Miami Beach.
In addition to seeking damages for the plaintiffs, the lawsuit sought an order that the “Memorial to Raymond Herisse” be displayed in a public place comparable to the space and amount of time in which it would have been displayed before City officials removed the installation in 2019.
In March 2022, a federal court dismissed the plaintiffs’ case, ruling that the exhibition was considered “government speech” and not subject to review by the courts. In its ruling, the court did not rule that the City’s act of censorship was justified, only that the court had no power to review it.
“This was our opportunity as artists to express our communal grief and expose the racial injustice that Raymond and many other Black residents experienced in Miami Beach,” said Rodney Jackson. “This form of censorship will not stand in court and must come to an end.”
The appeal filed by the civil rights groups challenges the lower court’s reliance on the government-speech doctrine, explaining that decades of Supreme Court precedent, including a new Supreme Court decision issued this summer, make clear that the doctrine does not apply in circumstances like those here, where the City left it up to the artists themselves to express their point of view.
“The City and the court have a responsibility to right this wrong and restore our First Amendment rights as artists and curators,” said Octavia Yearwood. “This has gone on far too long and Raymond and the residents of Miami Beach deserve to have their stories told, free from this harmful censorship.”
In 2019, Yearwood and McGriff were commissioned by the City of Miami Beach to create a series of art installations to display on Miami Beach during that year’s Memorial Day Weekend. The project, “ReFrame: Miami Beach,” was intended to promote conversations about race and address racial justice in Miami Beach. One exhibit, which was curated by Guerrero, included a painting by Miami-based artist Rodney Jackson entitled “Memorial to Raymond Herisse,” honoring the Miami victim of police brutality. However, City officials later ordered the removal of Jackson’s painting after complaints from City police officers. City officials also threatened to take down the entire exhibition if the painting was not removed.
“Let’s be clear: our display was not meant to be a tourist attraction. This exhibit had a deeper meaning and value to the community. The fact that the court ruled in favor of the City of Miami Beach is just another example of how Black voices and experiences of police brutality are being silenced. Our appeal is the response to this injustice,” said Jared McGriff.
The art memorial featured Raymond Herisse, a Haitian-American man who was killed by Miami Beach police in a hail of more than 100 bullets shot into his car in 2011. In October 2014, three years after this fatal shooting, the Miami Beach Police Department changed their use-of-force policy to prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles. The officers involved in the 2011 shooting, however, were not charged by Miami-Dade State Attorney prosecutors.
“In 2020, the entire country protested and demanded for police accountability and racial justice. In 2022, the Florida legislature failed to heed this call and instead introduced a harmful censorship bill, which was signed into law, that aims to prevent schools and employers from being able to discuss incidents like Raymond Herisse’s killing,” said Naiomy Guerrero. “This type of censorship is unacceptable and with this appeal, we hope to overturn this decision.”
A copy of the complaint can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/mcgriff-file-brief
A copy of the appellate brief filed today can be found here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/mcgriff-file-brief
The original press release can be found online here: https://www.aclufl.org/en/press-releases/groups-file-lawsuit-against-cit...