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Remembering D.J. Henry

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: When college student Danroy "D.J." Henry was shot and killed by police in Mt. Pleasant, N.Y., last weekend, he became just the latest in a long line of young black men whose lives ended far too soon under questionable circumstances. While the police claim that Henry, a Massachusetts native attending Pace University, sped toward them in his car, eyewitnesses and the videotape from the scene tell a different story, one featuring police officers overreacting to a crowd they saw as threatening, ending in a very bad choice.

Danroy Henry
His parents say they don't want to make this into a story about race. I understand where they're coming from: What they want is the truth, and some measure of peace, in the wake of a terrible loss. They don't want to become part of someone else's narrative about a global injustice. But as the mother of a black son, I can't ignore the role that race plays in this story. 

Black boys and young men are at risk the moment they step out their doors into a world in which the police are primed to see them as a threat. Look, police officers have a really tough job, and college students and other teenagers don't make it easy for them. But they are also human beings who carry the same prejudices and fears we all have, to varying degrees. 

I've grown up on college campuses and currently live across the street from a large, mostly white, suburban high school, and I've seen how the police can handle crowds in ways that don't involve gunfire. Henry and his friends were not armed, were not dangerous. Their only crime, it seems, was being in the wrong place and perhaps misunderstanding a cop's shouted orders. This is not a crime to die for. How many more young black men -- unarmed, innocent -- will be shot and killed by police before anything is done beyond the inevitable day-after handwringing? 

My son is only 4 now, still young and cute. But I fear the day his race will make some officer scared, will prompt a choice without any redress, will end up getting him hurt through no fault of his own. Sean Bell. Timothy Stansbury. Amadou Diallo. And now D.J. Henry. Each one was his mother's son. And every mother, no matter her child's race or gender, should care.


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