|Pace University Football Player Danroy Henry, Jr.|
By NICK CHILES
When will it stop? Another innocent black man killed by the cops. This time it was in Westchester County, New York, on the campus of Pace University. This time it was a football player, Danroy Henry, Jr., age 20, a junior business major and cornerback, out celebrating with friends and teammates at a local student hangout after a game during homecoming weekend. Gunned down. Just hours after having a pleasant post-game dinner with his parents at a campus pizzeria. They send their son off to party with his buddies and they never again see him alive. It breaks my heart. Of course, the accounts of the cops are in direct conflict with the accounts of the eyewitnesses, who say the young black man did nothing wrong. It seems like I’ve been reading this story for the entirety of my life. It gets written at least once a year, in some grief-stricken corner of the U.S., as a family cries out “Why?” and a squad of police officers shrug their shoulders and cloak their department in a shroud of obvious lies, as chronicled here in the New York Times.
Over the last couple of years, these stories have taken on a new meaning for me, a new urgency. Up until then, while my outrage was always pure and my disgust palpable, the details themselves were usually somewhat abstract. The menace was not something I carried with me. Yeah, I was a black man in America and understood that at any moment I could be staring into the dark muzzle of a cop’s service revolver. But I was young and imbued with the baseless invincibility and arrogance of youth. You know—who gonna check me, boo? And then, seemingly overnight, I became old and settled, a dad who spends most nights checking homework and watching soccer practice. Encounters with angry cops seemed as distant as the New York City bars and clubs I used to hit decades ago—though even that calm surrounding me was still probably baseless delusion.
But everything changed when my son started driving. Now he was out there in the world, a large black boy/man with swagger and a quick temper, a big brown magnet for police aggression. Suddenly, all those stories of black men gunned down rushed back like horror-movie monsters, haunting me in my dreams, waking me up in cold panics if I still hadn’t heard his car pull into the driveway. When I read the story of Danroy Henry in the New York Times a few days ago, I could feel a numbness slowly spreading over my limbs. Just hours before, I had received a text from my son, my own freshman engineering major and defensive lineman, informing me that he had returned safely to his Pennsylvania campus after a weekend spent hanging out in New York City with his football buddies from Lafayette College. Talk about hitting home. I realized that a campus only offers the illusion of safety. A campus and its surrounding towns still employ plenty of officers with service revolvers. My son is still a large black boy/man with swagger and a quick temper. The eruption at Pace is a reminder to me: A parent of a black boy/man in America never rests easy.
We must continue to cry out loudly, all of us, when the Danroy Henrys of our world meet such outrageous ends. Black men who made all the right choices, who did everything we asked of them, everything a young man in America is supposed to do. Snatched away. Stolen from us. Danroy was one of our princes. Gone. We can’t ever grow tired of the protest. We must close our eyes and step into the shoes of Danroy’s mom and dad, Angella and Danroy, Sr., allow ourselves for a moment to imagine that Danroy is ours. Let the rage wash over us. Let it propel all of us to form a chorus whose collective voice acts as a shout into the ear of every police officer in every city, every cop in a small town or on a college campus. If you take our boys from us, we will make sure that you are forever tormented by the vision of an angry mob, pointing a finger at you, calling you what you are. Murderer.
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About Our MBB Contributor: Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestselling tome The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms co-written with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. Nick also writes for several publications including Essence, where he frequently pens stories about fatherhood and manhood.