DJ Henry gets mural at Pace University, honoring Black student killed by police
| Rockland/Westchester Journal News
Pace University unveiled a mural of Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr., a student shot and killed by police more than a decade ago, on its Pleasantville campus Monday.
Henry, 20, studied business management and was a defensive back on the football team. On Oct. 17, 2010, a police officer shot into a moving car driven by Henry, who is Black, outside of a Thornwood bar near campus.
The officer was never charged, though Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah said in June that her office is reviewing the case.
For years, students say Henry’s story, while known in Black Student Union meetings, wasn’t heard elsewhere. Now, at 16 feet tall and 8 feet wide, a mural of a smiling Henry, wearing a navy blue and gold Pace jersey with a halo around his head, stands high above the student center.
“We are keeping him alive through word of mouth, through this mural,” said Kimberly Mars, the Student Government Association president. “That mural not only represents him, but it represents every Black student on campus, and every Black person that has lost their life due to police brutality.”
Irach’e “Shea” Teague and Jarette Mungin organized to better commemorate Henry on campus. While considering respectful ways to honor him that couldn’t be defaced, they settled on a mural, fastened about 8 feet above in the middle of campus.
“It’s for everyone,” Teague said. “And I really love that.”
“I see hope when I see DJ,” Mungin said in an unveiling ceremony.
The university showcased the mural as part of its second annual social justice week, which was created during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 to place Henry’s life within the broader framework of racial injustice. Pace President Marvin Krislov said the mural enshrines Henry’s legacy on campus.
“It’s a way of dealing with our history, even though the events occurred off campus,” he said. “But DJ is part of our history.”
Students selected artist Brittney Price, a Los Angeles-based artist who has created murals of George Floyd, a Black man murdered by Minneapolis police, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville police. Their deaths sparked global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Price said she left windows open while she worked for the Pace community to see. She received input from students and faculty on the mural, like having Henry smile.
The image, painted with acrylic, rests on four panels. Behind Henry, Pace’s athletic facility’s clock tower, named in Henry’s honor, has 12 o’clock as the only visible time, his jersey number. The clock has no hands, signifying timelessness of Black people killed by police, Price said.
Henry is surrounded by marigolds for warmth and joy, Price added, and the flowers are also used to commemorate loved ones who have passed away in Día de los Muertos. Two flying doves just from the piece to signify peace and movement.
“It’s not a static story. We have the ability to change,” she said, pausing. “It’s providing hope.”
On the back of the mural, Price inscribed words from Henry’s parents about their son, who was known as a loving person that drew others around simply with his smile and hugs.
“DJ often gave of himself and resources when no one was watching,” they said. “We honor that generous trait in our daily living.”
In October 2020, the university retired his jersey. A scholarship fund also honors him.
District Attorney reopens cases
The university unveiled the mural months after Rocah announced her office and a former federal judge would review Henry’s death, as well as the police killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, who is also Black.
White Plains police killed Chamberlain, 68, just over a year after Henry in November 2011. After Chamberlain’s LifeAid alert necklace accidentally triggered, police responded to his apartment, breaking his door down and shooting him.
He was the subject of a documentary produced by Morgan Freeman that premiered in September.
A spokesperson for Rocah’s office said there are no updates at this time.
In June, Rocah told reporters that the two families and community members asked her to review the shootings, the investigations and decisions to bring cases before grand juries, and the juries’ decisions not to indict them.
Eleven years ago, Henry, a junior transfer student from Easton, Massachusetts, parked his Nissan Altima outside of Finnegan’s bar in Thornwood. He met with teammates that night after a homecoming game against his hometown college, Stonehill.
In the early hours of Oct. 17, a fight broke out at the bar that didn’t include Henry’s group of friends. Police responded to the incident.
Henry’s Nissan was parked in the fire lane, and Mount Pleasant Police Officer Ronald Gagnon tried to get the driver to move. Henry did leave, but not until Pleasantville Police Officer Aaron Hess stepped in front of his moving car to stop him.
While details have been disputed, police reports show Hess, who is white, said he thought the car knocked Gagnon “off balance” as he left. Hess fired his gun into the windshield, striking Henry twice.
Police handcuffed Henry facedown and didn’t give him immediate medical attention. Hess was treated for a knee injury. Henry died at the scene.
In 2011, the Police Benevolent Association named Hess Officer of the Year.
In 2016, the Henry family accepted a $6 million settlement in their wrongful death lawsuit against the village of Pleasantville and Hess.
In the years since his death, officials and celebrities have raised awareness about Henry.
Pace quarterback Carlton Aiken, a graduate business school student, first learned about Henry’s death from the 2011 song, “Murder to Excellence,” which Jay-Z dedicates to Henry.
In August 2020, Aiken helped lead a student-athlete march from campus to the area where Henry died.
A transfer like Henry, Aiken wanted to spread awareness of Henry’s death. Aiken said his platform as quarterback gave him increased visibility to make a change.
Now, he’s glad Henry’s mural will be in the center of campus.
“When something like this happens, it’s tragic,” he said. “I just want to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
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