When Fusion first met Rafael "Rafi" Lynch at his Surfside home off the shores of Miami Beach, it was less than a week after his best friend, Israel Hernandez, passed away. On Tuesday, August 6, police caught Hernandez writing his now internationally famous tag, "Reefa," on the wall of an abandoned McDonald’s in Miami Beach.
When he ran, they chased him, then tased him. He died shortly after.
Lynch now found himself alone in his shared dream with Hernandez — one of starting a skateboard company. When Fusion met up with him, Lynch was still in shock, struggling to come to terms with Hernandez's death and its impact on their shared vision.
“What I want to do for Israel is finish what we started, which is our project that we had, which was so important to us,” he said. “Now it is just weird, because it is just me, and not having him around it just doesn’t feel right.”
But months after the incident, Lynch has decided that he is going to move forward with the product that they wanted to release together, called Tropical Wood Skateboards. The boards are unique in shape, hand-shaped by Lynch with a handsaw and sandpaper.
At the time of Hernandez’s death, Lynch said that he had only shaped two boards himself. In fact the day after the tragedy, he completed a board that was mounted on his wall that he said would have made Hernandez “flip.” Now he estimates that he has made at least 20 on his own, giving them to friends who ask for more.
“When it just happened I just – I didn’t feel strong,” he said in a recent follow-up interview at his home. “I was very sad about what happened…. After analyzing everything I came to this. I want to do this. I want to continue what he started with me.”
On weekends, Lynch brings his tools to a nearby school or to a friend's house to work on the boards. He says he draws moral support from his mom, who makes him work a set amount of hours on the project weekly.
“I have to do this. If I don’t do this, what is the point of being alive right now?” he asked rhetorically. “When I have dreams with him it is just me and him on top of a mountain that has a road that goes downhill… We just float down the hill and just talk and do tricks. I don’t really remember conversations, but most of what I remember is just skating.”
Meanwhile, the Hernandez family has filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami Beach and the Miami Beach Police Department over Israel Hernandez’s death. They've accused police of using excessive force and failing to give Hernandez medical attention. The case is also being independently reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The exact cause of death has yet to be determined.
Amnesty International’s latest report in June 2013 states that there have been 552 Taser-related deaths nationally. Florida is listed among the top states for those deaths.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.