MIAMI – For weeks, Jonathan T. Gartrelle has been a regular Black Lives Matter protester in downtown Miami. He has marched against police brutality in front of a crowd on Interstate 95, and he has stood like a shield in front of racist counter-protesters at Bayfront Park.
The 31-year-old New Yorker who now lives in Miami Beach has held up a megaphone at the Torch of Friendship, a monument on Biscayne Boulevard. He has been so passionate about the demonstrations that the police officers who are assigned to supervise them reported knowing his identity.
Officers also knew Gartrelle’s Instagram account. His arrest sites the use of powerful surveillance technology. Its use during protests against police brutality, the militarization of police departments and systemic racism has been a concern among civil rights activists nationwide.
On Saturday, Gartrelle joined a group at the Torch of Friendship. An officer reported first coming into contact with him after the driver of a pickup truck struck him while he was blocking traffic. Gartrelle didn’t want to file a report against the driver, police said.
The officer later noticed Gartrelle was “removing flags fixed to passing vehicles, damaging them and discarding them.” Officers decided it was time to arrest him. He escaped their grip, ran, got away, and later admitted to all of it on Instagram, police said.
Officers also accused Gartrelle of causing an estimated $800 in damage after running into the right side of an unmarked police vehicle.
When Gartrelle returned to the Torch of Friendship on Monday, several officers arrested him. There were at least seven uniformed police officers. There was also an armed man who was wearing blue jeans and a blue T-shirt. It was about 4:20 p.m. Officers reported he wasn’t armed and he resisted arrest without violence.
According to the arrest report, the use of the Real Time Crime Center technology helped police officers to target Gartrelle. Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina unveiled Miami’s RTCC in December. It is equipped with live camera feeds to help distribute real-time information to police officers.
Gartrelle had already talked to reporters about what he believes to be a need for police reform and he had complained about officers’ use of tear gas during protests. He told the Miami New Times that he helped to carry three protesters away from harm.
“What gets me is that we are in a pandemic of a respiratory virus,” Gartrelle told the Miami New Times. “This is an ‘I can’t breathe’ epidemic, and they suffocated us.”
Aside from the resisting an officer without violence charge, Miami-Dade County court records show Gartrelle is also facing a strong-arm robbery charge over the destruction of counter-protesters’ flags.