MOTT HAVEN — Cops and mourners clashed outside a funeral home last week as officers tried to disperse a crowd of hundreds that had gathered to grieve for a young Bronx DJ who was struck by a train, police and witnesses said.
Officers arrived in cars, vans, on horseback and even in a helicopter to manage the crowd of about 1,000 people that filled the streets outside Ortiz Funeral Home on Southern Boulevard near 149th Street, where a service was held on June 5 for Francisco Diego Jr., known to many as “Tech Trackz.”
Diego, 22, died just after 1 a.m. on June 1 after being hit by a No. 2 train at the Wakefield-241st St. Station, according to police. Press reports said he had jumped on the tracks to retrieve a dropped iPhone and was electrocuted by the third rail before being struck.
At his wake Wednesday, Diego lay in his coffin dressed in a white Adidas tracksuit and white headphones, according to a firsthand account by Teofilo Colon Jr. on his blog, Being Garifuna.
Once viewing hours ended at 9 p.m., Diego’s family addressed the sprawling overflow crowd outside the funeral home, then released a series of doves into the night sky, Colon said.
Shortly after, police officers began directing the crowd to head home.
But before long, interactions between police and some of the young mourners grew confrontational and scuffles broke out, which ended with several people in handcuffs, witnesses said.
Some in the crowd hurled rocks and bottles at cops and one person even punched an officer in the face, according to Capt. Philip Rivera of the 41st Precinct, which provided backup for 40th Precinct police at the memorial.
At a 41st Precinct community meeting Thursday, three people who had attended the memorial told Rivera that officers had acted “hostile” and “unprofessional” while dispersing the crowd, in effect “inciting a riot” among the mourners.
“Why were we treated that way during our time of grievance?” asked Carla Mena, 31, who, like Diego and many of his mourners, is part of the Bronx’s sizeable Garifuna community.
Rivera responded that officers had to balance sensitivity for the mourners with regard for the safety of the surrounding community, adding that if any officers had acted rudely, “that’s inappropriate.”
Still, he said, “There’s nothing that says you can punch an officer in the face when they tell you to get off the block.”
Diego worked as a security guard by day and a DJ and party promoter by night, hosting popular club nights that drew hundreds of young people, those who knew him said.
He was one of 12 children in a family with roots in Honduras, where he was to be buried, Colon added.
“We’re a tight-knit community,” Mena said of New York’s Garifuna people, “so the impact of his death was tremendous.”
Colon said it was unfortunate that the memorial service for such a beloved young person ended in violence.
“That touch of negativity at the end,” he said, “ruined a perfectly dignified and civil memorial.”