Despite beating, rapper returns to his street corner


Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 10:17 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 5:51 p.m.

Rafael Torres was still wearing a hospital bracelet when he resumed dancing and rapping Wednesday afternoon.

Facts

How to report abuse

If you would like to report suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a person with a disability, call 911 if that person's life or health is in immediate danger or call the Florida Abuse Hotline toll-free at 1-800-962-2873, file a report online at www.dcf.state.fl.us/abuse or fax a statement to 1-800-914-0004. If you would like more information on these issues, visit www.apdcares.org/zero-tolerance.

Wearing Air Jordans, a New York Knicks hat and a Dwyane Wade jersey, the 22-year-old danced and jammed along to a Daddy Yankee song on the corner of Northwest 16th Boulevard and 43rd Street.

Wednesday morning, he was not sure if he would be rapping on his usual street corner. Torres was threatened and beaten by Jerome Henderson, 33, of 1909 NW 36th Terrace, for singing and dancing on that same street corner Tuesday night, the Gainesville Police Department said.

Torres, who has a developmental disability, was recently profiled in The Sun after being honored in October by Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities for being a successful employee with disabilities.

Police said Henderson approached and yelled at Torres around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and took a swing at him. Torres ran into the nearby Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurant on 16th Boulevard to get away from Henderson, police reported.

Surveillance video shows Henderson followed Torres into the restaurant and attacked him, hitting Torres in the face and shoving him into a table, police said. Henderson then walked out of the restaurant and threatened Torres, saying that if he ever saw Torres singing and dancing on the corner again, Henderson would harm him, the report said.

Police said Henderson has yelled at Torres several times in the past month and threatened to hurt him if he saw him on the corner again. On one occasion, Torres said Henderson threatened him with a baseball bat, the report said.

After he was arrested, Henderson told police that Torres had been "menacing him, his mother, the old people at the Atrium and other drivers" by dancing and singing on the corner and making eye contact. Henderson was charged with aggravated stalking and abuse against an adult with disabilities, according to the report.

He was released from the Alachua County jail Wednesday after posting $30,000 bond.

On Wednesday, drivers beeped their horns and waved at Torres as he showcased his moves on the corner. The first person to come dance with Torres on Wednesday was Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy.

"I'm happy to show my solidarity with Rafael, even though I'm more of a Southern Rock person," Braddy said as he danced to French Montana. "My kids love him. He's a signature part of the city."

As drivers passed the duo, they shouted, waved and recorded video or photos on their phones.

"We're proud of you," a woman yelled. A couple yelled from their car, "Keep doing what you're doing."

People kept coming to the corner in twos and threes to talk to Torres and thank him for being there every day. People who heard about Torres' story decided Wednesday to stage a rally in his honor that will take place Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the same corner.

Carmen Jimenez and her daughter Raquel Jimenez also came out Wednesday to show support for Torres. Carmen Jimenez said her other daughter, who has Down syndrome, knows Torres from activities they do together.

"This kid doesn't do any harm to anybody, he just wants to be a rapper," she said. "Our children have the same right as everybody else to be here."

Torres' mother, Mary Jean Foss, said that although her son is upset about the situation, he wants to keep dancing and rapping.

"(Henderson) had been after him for about a month," she said. "When he threatened him with the baseball bat, he told Rafael he would break every bone in his body."

Foss said Henderson told her son, "I'm sick of your type," before he attacked Torres. Two Five Guys employees pulled Henderson off Torres, and Henderson walked out of the restaurant and drove away, Foss said.

Foss took Torres to the emergency room Tuesday night. His head still hurts, she said, but he has no other injuries.

"My son hardly got sleep last night," she said. "He's terrified of going to court and sitting in the same room as that man."

Nearly 90 percent of individuals with developmental disabilities may be the victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation at some point during their lives, said Tom Rice, a program administrator at Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities and coordinator of the Zero Tolerance Initiative.

Usually, if a person with disabilities is abused, it is by a person who knows him or her well, such as a care provider or a family member. Crimes like the one allegedly involving Torres and Henderson are rare, Rice said.

The agency recommends that people who know someone with a disability should educate themselves about the issues, look for signs and symptoms of abuse, neglect and exploitation and report it if they suspect it is happening.

"Everybody believes that no one would harm a person with a disability, but that's not the case," Rice said. "This is a national problem, and there are certain things we can do to make the world a safer place for people with developmental disabilities."

Torres said he was a bit paranoid after what happened, but he said he's bounced back. On Wednesday, he shouted and waved to what he calls his "fans" as they drove by.

"(Henderson) said he hates my rapping, my dancing, anything I do," Torres said. "He's not a nice person. But I'm going to keep doing it. No one's stopping me anymore."

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