Pharrell, Rihanna, JAY-Z and Mary J. Blige are among a group of celebrities demanding justice for Danroy “DJ” Henry, a Black student at Pace University who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2010.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, first reported by Page Six, the group ask the Department of Justice to reevaluate whether discrimination played a role in Henry’s death, and if it did, to “deliver the justice that restores this young man’s reputation, while giving hope to other young Black men who are just like him and desperate for change.”
On Oct. 17, 2010, police were called to respond to a fight outside a Westchester County sports bar where Henry, a 20-year-old college football player, was out celebrating with his teammates. According to news reports at the time, Henry was unarmed and in his car when officer Aaron Hess approached him. At that point, Hess claimed that Henry sped towards the officer in his car, at which point Hess shot Henry.
Henry’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Hess and another officer, both of whom the civil suit alleges pulled Henry from the car, handcuffed him and left him on the ground to bleed to death. A grand jury declined to indict Hess in 2011, and in 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it would not bring federal charges against the officer.
“This agonizing case remains an unhealed wound for the Henry family of the people of New York,” reads the letter, which was also signed by Charlize Theron, Taraji P. Henson, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Williams, Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union. “DJ, a young Black youth with a bright future ahead of him, was killed for no apparent reason inside his own vehicle.”
“The facts of the case reek of local conflict of interest, racial bias and even false testimony,” it continues. “But like so many other unarmed and innocent young, black men who find themselves guilty of being [in the wrong place] at the wrong time, DJ, too, lost his life for no good reason and with absolutely no good explanation — to this very day. Justice, it appears, has been denied.”
Their call for justice echoes nationwide protests over police misconduct and racial inequality, which erupted anew in May after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police, following the similar tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all too many other Black Americans.