Revolution #216, November 14, 2010

The Police Execution of DJ Henry

Danroy Henry Jr., known as DJ, was hanging out with a couple of friends in his car outside a restaurant in Mount Pleasant, a suburb a little north of New York City in Westchester County. A junior at Pace University and a cornerback on the football team, DJ had gone for a night out with teammates and friends after the October 17 homecoming game. "We were just enjoying each other's company, laughing and making jokes, talking about things we were going to do, how we were going to get the most out of life," DJ's close friend Brandon Cox recalled later.

But in a matter of minutes, DJ Henry was dead, gunned down by police bullets. It was less than a couple of weeks before his 21st birthday.

Up until his young life was so brutally cut short, DJ had done what the Bill Cosbys and Bill O'Reillys of this world always lecture that young Black men should do: go to school, stay close to your family, be religious, stay out of trouble with the law… But none of that prevented him from becoming a victim of the epidemic of police shootings that is killing people, especially Black and Latino youth, in cities and towns across the U.S.

While DJ and Brandon were waiting for others to come out of the restaurant, police arrived and approached the car with guns drawn. DJ began moving the car out of the spot when gunshots suddenly rang out. Two of the cops, both white, had fired into the car. One or possibly several bullets hit and killed DJ, and another grazed and injured Brandon. Videos of the scene shortly afterwards, taken by bystanders with phone cameras, show an unidentified woman trying to give CPR to DJ, who is on the ground beside the car. DJ was pronounced dead at the scene.

The police, as they always do in these situations, immediately began to blame the victim of their shooting. A police officer, they say, saw a crowd spilling out of the restaurant that night and called for backup. When a cop approached DJ's car, which was in a fire lane, the car suddenly sped up, clipping one officer with the side view mirror and knocking another onto the hood. Because of this, the cop on the hood, and a third officer, fired their weapons at the car.

The police painted a picture of cops having to deal with an unruly crowd outside the restaurant—four of DJ's teammates were arrested at the scene of the shooting, three for obstructing the police and one for criminal mischief for smashing a store window. A few days after the deadly police shooting, the media reported on what was claimed to be the results of the autopsy on DJ showing that his blood alcohol level had been above the legal limit at the time of death. The Mount Pleasant police department, responsible for the "investigation" into the incident, denied that they had anything to do with the leak of the report. But clearly, the release of this information—whether it is true or not—was an attempt to put DJ in a bad light and justify the cops' actions.

Witnesses have contradicted the police version of events. A Pace senior who was at the scene said he did not see the shooting but did see DJ's car pull away. He said the car would not have been going very fast since it went only about 100 feet before crashing. "They didn't give him a chance to pull over," he said. "They could have pursued him in their vehicles." DJ's teammates who were arrested at the scene say they were trying to get to DJ to help after he was shot, but were prevented by the police.

An attorney for the Henry family said a ballistic expert has determined that the officer who fired into the windshield while on the hood, killing DJ, had first fired once into the hood of the car. According to the expert, the angle of the shot into the hood indicates that it was fired from the side—which goes against the police story that the officer was in danger from the moving car. Some witnesses say the cop who fired the fatal shots wasn't knocked onto the hood of DJ's car but jumped onto the hood before shooting into the windshield.

Friends and acquaintances who saw DJ at the restaurant say that he took his role as the designated driver that night seriously and wasn't drinking. A Pace junior said, "He was with me the whole night and wasn't even drinking. I kept trying to get him to take a sip of my drink and he kept saying, 'No, I'm driving.'"

The only reason DJ's family and friends have had to address this question is because of the suspicious "leak" of the supposed report on DJ's alcohol level, which became an issue in the mainstream media coverage. But whether the report is real or not, how does the number of drinks DJ may have had have anything to do with whether the cops should have shot and killed him? And if DJ had clipped a cop with a side view mirror while driving out of a parking stop—if that actually happened—how does that in any way justify the police firing their weapons?

There is no reason to believe the police version of events. But in any case, there is NO justice in the way the cops acted as judge, jury, and executioner when they stole DJ's life.

DJ's family has made it clear that they want to know the whole truth about what happened on the night of October 17. And they are demanding that the authorities release all the information they have—which they have refused to do, so far. DJ's father, Danroy Henry Sr., said about the alcohol level report, "If it's a part of the truth, so be it. But at the end of the day, the central question to us is, does that justify killing our son?... We still fundamentally believe it isn't."

The police killing of DJ Henry has been covered in the national media, including by the New York Times, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated. Over 2,000 people came to the October 29 memorial service for DJ—on what would have been his 21st birthday—held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. DJ's family lives in Easton, a middle class Boston suburb, where he went to high school.

A sentiment expressed by many people at the memorial was that DJ's death was "so unnecessary." This is deeply true: there was absolutely no reason for DJ to be killed. Some people are saying that the problem is that the cops involved in DJ's shooting were "poorly trained." BUT the fact is that under this system of capitalism, the police are instruments for enforcing an unjust set of social relations and political order—including discrimination against and oppression of African Americans (and other minority nationalities) as a people. Look at the way the New York City cops murdered 23-year-old Sean Bell in his car in 2006, on the day he was to be married. Look at what happened to Oscar Grant, 22 years old, killed with a bullet to the back in 2009 in Oakland as a cop pinned him face down on a train platform. Look at the cold-blooded police execution of 23-year-old Mark Anthony Barmore in Rockford, Illinois, gunned down in a church daycare center. The list goes on—young Black men, unarmed, cut down by police bullets, like DJ Henry.

After his longtime friend was killed, Brandon Cox said, "I am heartbroken. I was fortunate to make it through. We won't rest until we get justice for DJ."

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