Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Black Boy, Another Senseless Murder—When Will It Stop?

Pace University Football Player Danroy Henry, Jr.


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.

The Henry Family at Danroy's Memorial.
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.  

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  1. Murderer... ummm, you just said a mouthful there. As a newly single mom of a Black boy, I worry. I worry when I see things like this in the news, and as you said, it's a story that seems to re-surface with a difference family, a difference location, a different time, but the same face -- Black or Brown brothers. Although my son is only 3-years-old, I worry for his physical and emotional safety as I try to raise him right in a world that is so replete with racism. Although they'd like us to believe that it's long dead, it is all too blatant to those of us who walk on the other side of the rope.

    Beautifully written and well said.

  2. This is my greatest fear for my son - that when I set him out into the world ... he'll be taken from me by these racists. Never once have I ever believed that we are past this. It's a shame that I have to teach my son about THIS reality, that THIS is how he will be viewed and that there is a segment of this population that would like nothing better than to take him from this earth - just because of the color of his skin.

  3. This is just sad! I don't even have words.

  4. I have always dreamed of and dreaded giving birth to a son in this country. Last year, I did. A beautiful brown boy who is the carbon copy of his father. My dreams are to raise an insightful and intelligent Black man - my dread has always been that some wicked and senseless act from the violent spirit that enshrouds every facet of this country will steal him from me one day.

    When will this stop? When can Black women and Black men cease the weeping over the coffins and graves of boys whose only crime in life was to be born Black/Brown? This breaks my heart today.

  5. I feel so helpless when I read about yet another slaying of a black man/boy. The tears we have shed over our murdered boys and men can fill an ocean. I am tired of crying. When will justice prevail?

  6. DJ was my boyfriends cousin. The story is just unbelievable. Hearing that this friends couldnt help him as he was bleeding on the ground makes my stomach turn. What is absolutely frustrating is that the Police Dept will probably NEVER tell the TRUTH about what happened.

  7. The perfect words! Yes, this is exactly how so many black parents feel when our boy/man walks out the door to live their lives. So on point!

  8. All we can do is raise the boys right. The rest we have no control over. Rather than getting angry at a system that is designed to fail and let us down, we need to enjoy the good in life that God has given us and use that measure to praise him and know that one day we will see all these good men again and these wrongs will be righted. Oh yes, I took it all kinds of religious just now - because that is the only thing that never fails us. This article was greatly written and poignant. My sadness goes out to all involved in this tragedy.

    My best, Lynn

  9. There are no words that can make this better, and it is happening too often. I am a white mother of grown white sons, but I still use to worry that my one son who has some health problems might not know what to do if police stopped him, that he might panic, get overly frightened, etc. I don't want to go into what's wrong, but stress (and being stopped by the police can stress anyone out) can cause him to have problems. I have told him what to do, but what if................My heart goes out to this young man's family and friends. A really well written article Nick, but I am so sorry that you had to write it.


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