It has been a tough week on social media for Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is running for city mayor in the upcoming November elections.
A day after firing his commission office aide for posting a series of offensive messages on Twitter about constituents, Suarez came under attack Thursday for a paid political advertisement about an 18-year-old who died last week after getting Tased by a Miami Beach police officer.
In an ad posted on Facebook and Twitter, the commissioner said his thoughts and prayers went out to Israel Hernandez-Llach and his family.
The ad went on to reference a comment made by Mayor Tomás Regalado in 2010 about police response to gang violence in inner-city neighborhoods — at the same time that there was a series of police-involved shootings.
“The current City of Miami Mayor has said that ‘we will fight violence with violence,’" the ad said. If the City of Miami and its surrounding cities are truly going to become influential cities of the future, we must reconsider this way of thinking.”
Hernandez-Llach's family did not comment about the ad. However, Fabio Andrade, an activist in South Florida's Colombian-American community who has become close with the family, called it "repugnant."
"Why hasn't he called the family directly to express condolences or gone to the funeral home to speak to the family?" he said. "It's regrettable that a commissioner tries to use a family's pain for political purposes."
Thursday morning, Sgt. Javier Ortiz, president of the city’s police union, issued a statement to “shame” Suarez for attacking law enforcement officers in an ad Ortiz described as insensitive.
“It is unfortunate that Commissioner Francis Suarez has chosen to utilize a sensitive situation in which someone has died on a paid political advertisement for Mayor to obtain votes,” wrote Ortiz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “There is not a single law enforcement officer that would’ve wanted Israel Hernandez to die for committing a criminal act.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Suarez defended the ad and said should not be interpreted as an attack on police but rather as a critique of Regalado's policies.
The mayor made the comment about violence three years ago in a response to reporters' questions about gang violence during a rash of police-involved shootings that resulted in the deaths of seven black men.
The police union also blamed Hernandez for his own death.
“No one can take responsibility for Israel’s death except himself,” Ortiz wrote. “There is currently no medical evidence that Tasers pose a significant risk for induced cardiac dysrhythmia in humans when deployed reasonably.”
The precise cause of Hernandez’s death will remain unknown until the medical examiner completes its investigation, although in police radio recordings from the incident released Wednesday, a paramedic on the scene is heard saying that Hernandez had suffered from cardiac arrest.
Critics of Taser use in police departments maintain that, though the risk is low, there are numerous cases of deaths related to their use, and there are medical studies indicating that the stun guns can cause cardiac arrest even in people who are sober and in good health.
Amnesty International published a report in 2008 documenting 500 deaths in the United States related to Taser use by police. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist and professor at the University of Indiana, published a study last year focusing on healthy and sober young men who suffered cardiac arrest as a direct result of being shocked by Tasers.
“Even a normal heart can be triggered to have cardiac arrest” by a Taser, Zipes told el Nuevo Herald. “There is a definite risk… and that’s whether you have a normal heart or whether you’ve had five heart attacks, whether you’ve had no alcohol or whether you’ve had 20 beers.”
This post has been updated to add Andrade's comment and Suarez's statement.