About 200 Pace University student-athletes marched from the Pleasantville campus to the Thornwood Town Center Sunday afternoon, calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality against people of color.
Holding signs and chanting slogans, the diverse group of athletes ended the walk with a rally where Danroy (DJ) Henry, a Black 20-year-old Pace student and a member of the school’s football team, was shot and killed by a Pleasantville police officer nearly 10 years ago.
Carlton Aiken, quarterback for the Pace University football team, said the captains of all of the school’s sports teams collectively agreed not to practice last Thursday, the day after six NBA teams and several Major League Baseball teams decided against playing following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisc.
“We sat out of practice, so we didn’t want to sit by and do nothing, we wanted to be seen and heard and what better way to be seen and heard than walking to where a tragic event had happened to someone on our campus and one of our fellow athletes,” Aiken said.
Several students said that since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and last week’s incident involving Blake, an increasing number of Pace students have become increasingly aware of what happened to Henry in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2010.
“I know that some people know the basics of the story but they don’t know the details and they don’t know all the ins and outs,” said Blair Wynn, a 2015 Pace graduate and a current assistant football coach. “A lot of stuff is not discussed as it should be, as it needs to be, if you ask me.”
Henry was behind the wheel of a car parked in the fire lane next to the curb with two friends, out celebrating after a game with teammates. Meanwhile, a fight had broken out outside the old Finnegan’s Bar & Grill in the Town Center. A Mount Pleasant police officer asked that Henry move his car, and when he did Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess walked in front of the vehicle, and was struck by the car, propelling him onto its hood before shooting through the windshield. However, there was also a conflicting account from Mount Pleasant Police Officer Ronald Beckley during a deposition released in 2012 that Hess fired his gun before ending up on the hood of the car. Henry died a short while after the incident.
A grand jury failed to indict Hess several months later. Henry’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and the Village of Pleasantville, settling in 2016 for about $6 million.
Some of the marchers also called for authorities to reopen the case in hopes of investigating and trying Hess for Henry’s death. Earlier this summer a change.org petition was launched with a goal of collecting 500,000 signatures. As of Sunday, more than 352,000 names are on the petition.
Nadia Vestman, who graduated from Pace last spring, was one of those who wants the matter re-examined.
“There’s a lot of people that still haven’t gotten justice,” Vestman said. “No matter how many signatures we get it’s up to the politicians of this country to actually bring justice to the officer that did the killing of these innocent people, and as much as we can sign these signatures, we need the support from our local politicians, national politicians, and this is just a start.”
Dyson Frank, a freshman and a member of the men’s basketball team, said he was pleased the walk served multiple purposes.
“We did this in memory of (Henry), but we also do it to support the Black community and all community impacted by police brutality,” Frank said.
In additional to alumni, the marchers were joined by a few local community members who showed their support. Along the roughly two-mile walk on the sidewalks from the campus to the Town Center, which was done in separate groups of about 25 people, Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant police officers were stationed at various points to make sure there was no trouble along the way.
In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of Henry’s death, there will be more events, and not just protests, said Joey Manforte, a Pace men’s lacrosse player.
“We’re ready to do some fundraisers to donate to different organizations to help the families that may have been in loss or in pain or in suffering, things that have been going on as well as spreading awareness,” Manforte said. “We’re never doing too much to get the word out. We can change one mind at a time, like as you see this movement going on.”