A Pace University student who was shot and killed by a Pleasantville police officer 10 years ago had his football jersey number retired last week on what would have been his 31st birthday.
What was intended to be a social justice rally on the Pleasantville campus turned into a small gathering to celebrate the life of Pace student athlete Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr. last Thursday. Those who gathered honored Henry’s memory while urging the need to put an end to police brutality and eliminate systemic racism that they say resulted in Henry’s death.
“It saddens me that DJ’s Pace experience was cut short. Police brutality is still as prevalent today as it was 10 years ago,” said Mikayla Wray, vice president of Pace’s Black Student Union. “We will continue to fight this ongoing battle until justice is served for every innocent Black life taken.”
Wray pressed the importance of stepping up and speaking out in times of social injustice, Others noted incidents of disrespect that was displayed by police in the months following Henry’s death.
On Oct. 17, 2010, Henry, a Pace football player, was out with his friends at a restaurant and bar at the Thornwood Town Center when a fight between two men broke out that didn’t involve Henry. Henry was in the driver’s seat of a car that was parked in a fire lane when he was asked by police to move the vehicle. When he did, Officer Aaron Hess stepped in front of the moving car and wound up on the hood.
Hess fired four gunshots through the windshield, killing Henry and wounding a passenger. Henry was unarmed.
In the aftermath, Hess maintained he repeatedly shouted for the car to stop prior to firing off shots, with former Pleasantville Police Chief Anthony Chiarlitti supporting there was no racial bias in Henry’s killing. Advocates for Henry maintained that police reports were also released misrepresenting what happened that night. Witnesses have reportedly stated the shooting was aggressive and unnecessary.
Hess was never charged in Henry’s death, with a grand jury declining to bring charges against him in February 2011. That same year, the Pleasantville Police Benevolent Association named Hess Officer of the Year for his constant display of professionalism.
The case was later reviewed by federal prosecutors but never tried. Henry’s family eventually reached financial settlements with the Village of Pleasantville and Town of Mount Pleasant.
Henry’s parents Angella and Danroy Henry Sr. said in a video message to the school community last week that they are still seeking accountability for their son’s death. In recent months, members of the Pace community have protested and called on local and state officials to reopen Henry’s case as other incidents of police brutality make national headlines.
“We need to have some resolution for him but also we want to reward your good efforts by having change really happen,” Henry Sr. said. “Not that we’re calling for change, we need change to happen for us in this lifetime and those who will follow us.”
During the ceremony, which was altered from a rally due to bad weather, Pace officials retired Henry’s football jersey, which sported the number 12. Those in attendance stressed the need to fight for change and ensure Henry’s legacy and story is never forgotten.
“That (jersey) number signifies completion,” said Rachel Carpenter, interim dean for students. “DJ’s life may have come to an end, but on this day of his birth I want us to remember what still remains incomplete and unanswered. Don’t just count your years; make them count for you and for DJ.”