The father of DJ Henry, a young Black man killed by police 10 years ago, said Thursday he hopes a renewed call for justice from celebrities like Jay-Z and Rihanna will help spur prosecutors to reopen his son's case.
"We're looking for willing hearts. People get it, conceptually, in their heads. They might even sort of feel emotionally connected in their hearts, but we need hands. We need action. We need people moving this forward," Danroy Henry Sr. told NBC10 Boston. "Maybe because now the environment has changed, people may be more willing to do that."
Danroy "DJ" Henry, of Easton, Massachusetts, was a 20-year-old junior at Pace University when he was shot to death by a white police officer in Pleasantville, New York, in 2010.
A long list of celebrities are now calling on the U.S. attorney general to "reopen the case and probe the wrongful death" of Henry amid global outrage over the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police.
The Massachusetts family has been pushing to reopen the case for years. The case has gained national attention in the wake of protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other victims of police violence.
"Our lives for the last 10 years are a living protest," Henry Sr. said. "I feel like I've been protesting since I lost Danny and we'll continue to do that. We'll continue to do that."
Henry Sr. is just as grateful for the gravitas of names in the entertainment and sports industries like Rhianna and Jay-Z, who signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr Monday, as he is for the support he's received from parents across the country.
"DJ, a young black youth with a bright future ahead of him, was killed for no apparent reason inside his own vehicle," the letter reads. "The facts of the case reek of local conflict of interest, racial bias and even false testimony. But like so many other unarmed and innocent young, black men who find themselves guilty of being at 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."
"We appreciate anybody that's leaning into this moment -- anybody, whether they're celebrities or not -- for leaning into this moment," Henry Sr. said. "We'll all benefit from it."
The family received a settlement and an apology from the New York town for Henry's death, but the former police officer who shot him, Aaron Hess, was never criminally charged.
"He's had 10 years of living with this," Henry Sr. said. "I hope he's living with guilt, but now he's got to face a real jury with real evidence, objective prosecution and deal with consequences. We certainly have had to deal with the consequences of his action for the last 10 years -- now he should too."
Hess never apologized to the family and was cleared by a local grand jury. His testimony was kept secret, according to Henry Sr., in accordance with New York state laws at the time.
When the family sued, however, Henry Sr. said they unearthed evidence of tampering that they believe supports a wrongful shooting designation. They do not know whether those details were ever taken into account in court.
"We want a conviction on the strength of the real evidence," Henry Sr. said. "The facts are the facts, and by definition, the unlawful taking of the human life is considered murder, and we think he took our son's life unlawfully."
The Massachusetts Senate passed a police reform bill this week to impose police oversight, ban choke-holds, limit the use of tear gas, license all law enforcement officers and train them on the history of racism.
Henry Sr. said that while it is helpful to make "the rules around policing clearer to the communities and to the police officers," anything short of bringing back a lost loved one will never be enough.
"People always ask me, 'Are we doing enough?' Enough would be bringing our children back, so I don't think there ever can be enough when you lose a child tragically to these circumstances. But I do think the rules need to be clear and people need to play fairly by them."
The Henry family has leaned on their faith to guide them through this fight, the father said, acknowledging that DJ Henry was never able to fulfill all of the promises of his life.
"We have to hope that we're going to see Danny again, and we do," Henry Sr. said. "Maybe we'll watch a game one day in heaven, I don't know. I have to hope that we will and that's part of why we're trying to make sure that we're doing all we can to hold his killer to account."
As for DJ Henry's memory, Henry Sr. wants it to be centered around how the student-athlete helped others.
"We want them to remember how he lived," he said, adding that the family is trying to shine a light on that "through the work of the DJ Henry Dream Fund foundation that we started 10 years ago."
The foundation's mission has been to financially support kids who otherwise would not have the resources to attend camps, play sports and engage in other expensive activities.
"That was DJ's life," Henry Sr. explained. "Those are the stories we heard from people who would tell us, in the early days, 'Danny, I couldn't do something, and he found a way to help me do it or he would get me equipment if I didn't have it. He'd pay for things that I couldn't pay for.' In many ways, he founded the DJ Henry Dream Fund foundation. We're just expanding on his foundation to build his legacy."