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Graphic photo of graffiti writer laying in front of police car tells a story

Delbert "Demz" Rodriguez's death is getting worldwide attention on social media

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(COURTESY OF KANIARIS VIA BLOCK BY BLOCK)

MIAMI – It was dark. There was graffiti all over the walls of closed store fronts and warehouses. And it wasn't quiet. Art Basel Miami Beach attracted thousands to Miami's Midtown and Wynwood neighborhood.

Wealthy contemporary art collectors and graffiti writers from New York and other parts of the country were getting tours of the area Thursday night. In the art world, some refer to vandalism as low brow art. There was an air of freedom.

None of the art lovers could have anticipated that Miami police officers were going to be hunting down graffiti writers in undercover cars that night. But they did. On Wednesday, Twitter users from as far as Australia and Belgium were commenting on the Miami graffiti writer who died Monday of injuries he suffered during a police chase early Friday morning.

"For every reaction there's an equal reaction," Seth Blake said. "I don't think death is an equal reaction to a graffiti artist."

At The Wynwood Walls on Second Avenue and Northwest 25th Street Thursday night there was a catered party for art collectors, gallery owners, curators, artists and lovers of graffiti. Graffiti writers and local artists were hanging out at the nearby Wood Tavern past midnight.

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The Wynwood Walls display the work of graffiti writers turned artists from around the world, including Shepard Farey -- whose portrait of President Barack Obama hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. His clothing brand Obey has also made him rich.

East of the area on Fifth Avenue and 24th Street, there was plenty of "305 graffiti culture" pride. Vandals aspiring to attain Farey's legitimacy and notoriety were roaming around with spray cans. Delbert Rodriguez met a couple of graffiti writers visiting from Philadelphia that night.

One second they were spray painting, and the next they were running away from Miami police. A witness heard the noise, got closer to the scene and shot a picture thinking Rodriguez was dead. It was distributed on private accounts on Instagram. It showed Rodriguez's body on the ground.

Rodriguez was laying sideways in front of a silver car. His head was closer to the side walk. His legs stretched in front of the car. Two men were standing over him. The men were undercover police officers in the gang unit and the unmarked silver Chevrolet sedan was a Miami police car.

Under Florida law, graffiti writers who belong to a graffiti crew can be treated just like gang members. Criminal mischief is a common charge. There have been cases when the definition of a criminal gang has been applied to graffiti crews. 

Miami police confirmed Wednesday the photo taken Dec. 5th appeared to be of the scene. Police said parked cars blocked Det. Michael Cadavid's visibility. Police also said Rodriguez's dark clothing made him less visible during the chase.

The photo showed two inconsistencies in the police officers' version of what happened Dec. 5th.

-- Rodriguez was wearing a white T-shirt.

-- The photo doesn't show parked cars that could have been blocking Rodriguez.  From the angle that the photo was taken, the police officer struck him on the curb and near the sidewalk -- where drivers are not allowed to park their cars.

It was early Friday morning, about 2 a.m. Police officers didn't try to help Rodriguez up, a witness said. Instead, they stood over him and waited for Miami Fire Rescue to check up on him. Paramedics took him to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he died a few days later.

The incident remains under investigation. Meanwhile, social media users worldwide were sharing the photo. In Miami's Wynwood, the photo seemed to be fueling the already prevalent anti-police sentiment.