The rapper turned to the cameras. He gave a quick verse:
“You know what I’m saying. This is DJ Raffy. This is what we do. I could do this all day if I wanted to.”
He really could — it’s a routine. Dance. Rap. Repeat.
On Friday evening, about 100 of his fans decided to join him.
When word got out that a man attacked Northwest Gainesville’s street performer Tuesday, residents responded by throwing a “Rally for Raffy.”
Rafael Torres, known as DJ Raffy, is a 22-year-old with mental disabilities. He works at the Williston McDonald’s on 34th Street, and when he’s not there, he’s doing what he loves most.
He has a dance session at the corner of Northwest 16th Boulevard and Northwest 43rd Street every evening, sometimes stopping for a burger at the Five Guys nearby. He doesn’t need an exclusive venue, just the intersection. His audience is never there for long. They speed by but always make sure to clap or give a few honks here and there.
Surrounded by fans Friday, Raffy was in his element.
Local Zumba instructor Jessica Antiga took a quick break from dancing at the corner. Her bright red shirt was damp with dark spots. She said the rally naturally fell into place, generated from comments on the Gainesville Sun’s article about the attack.
A Facebook event page formed. The First Credit Union bank nearby sent up a tent and water for the event, and a pastor reached out to help.
“I have no idea how it came together so well,” Antiga said.
Soon, she ran back into the red-shirted crowd of people supporting DJ Raffy.
Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” started playing. The crowd clapped to the beat.
“I don’t see everybody clapping!” Antiga said. “Are you happy?”
The crowd cheered.
Soon a circle formed, and DJ Raffy busted moves in the center.
“Raffy! Raffy! Go Raffy! Go Raffy!”
Every few seconds, like clockwork, a round of car horns blared.
For commuters in Northwest Gainesville, DJ Raffy isn’t a stranger.
UF adjunct professor Toryn Buckley stood at the corner of the rally. She couldn’t stop smiling. Buckley works in UF’s Department of Health Education and Human Behavior and passes the intersection on her way home.
“No matter the kind of day you’ve had, you cannot help but smile when you see him,” she said. “To hear that somebody harmed him, I think all of us had the same reaction: ‘Not in our community.’”
Tuesday evening, Raffy’s adoptive mother MaryJean Foss got the call from his brother about the attack.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.”I was in shock.”
Raffy told Foss about a man threatening him for weeks, but he never thought the man would act, Foss said.
Gainesville Police arrested the man, 33-year-old Jerome Edward Henderson, when he decided to follow through with his threats. He was charged with counts of aggravated stalking and abuse of a disabled adult.
At about 7:30 p.m. at the usual corner, Henderson started yelling at Raffy and tried to take a swing, so Raffy ran to Five Guys. Henderson followed Raffy, punching him in the face and shoving him into one of the restaurant’s tables, according to an arrest report. He walked out of the restaurant and threatened to hurt Raffy again if he saw him back on the corner singing and dancing.
During questioning, Henderson said Raffy has been menacing people by singing, dancing and making eye contact at the corner, according to the report.
The day after the incident, DJ Raffy was back on his corner, this time joined by Mayor Ed Braddy. The two danced together, and Braddy came back Friday for the rally.
“We love what he does,” Braddy said. “He brings joy to a lot of people.”
Braddy turned his head.
“Oh my god, I gotta get Commissioner Chase on tape,” he said. “This will be proof I’m not the worst dancer.”
City Commissioner Todd Chase danced a few steps away wearing headphones. Chase said he loves hip-hop, particularly artists like Drake and Wiz Khalifa.
“I live out here. I’ve seen Raffy for almost a year,” Chase said. “When I read what happened, it just broke my heart.”
The crowd quieted soon, and the Rev. Milford Lewis Griner presented Raffy with a certificate and a $25 gift card to Red Lobster.
Raffy started to speak:
“I want to thank all my fans out there. Gainesville, you know I love y’all,” he said. “I do this for everybody!”
Once again, the crowd erupted in chants. The rally lasted a while longer, but soon the music died down, and DJ Raffy was dancing alone at the corner.
“I feel good when I step on stage,” he said. “This is my stage.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 4/14/2014 under the headline "At Rally for Raffy, locals support rapper after attack"]