Dan and Angella Henry sit in the windowed kitchen of their stately home in Easton, Mass. — the trampoline and swimming pool out back, the trees and hummingbird feeders all around, the artfully arranged platter of sandwiches on the granite counter.
They are talking about race again.
Or, more specifically, they are talking about why they no longer want to talk about race.
It’s not that they don’t understand why others view their loss through the lens of Ferguson and Baltimore, Madison and Cleveland, Brooklyn and Miami Gardens — other places where unarmed men were killed at the hands of ones in uniform. And they certainly accept why others place their son on the list that includes Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner — other black men (and, in the case of Rice, children) left to die in public streets by white police officers.
Yes, they see why so many people think they are part of this grim club; why they are sought out after each new horror, invited to march, to weigh in, to protest, to condemn; why their boy is embraced as a symbol, a call to action, a piece of a national arc. But in the more than four years since their 20-year-old was shot twice through his front windshield by a white police officer after being ordered to move his car in a quiet New York suburb, his parents have kept their distance from those who would make this life and death part of a cause.
It’s not that they aren’t outraged. “Of course we are,” Dan says. “But we just aren’t comfortable being part of a broad racial narrative, because we think in some ways it dehumanizes the victim, it just makes everybody, all these victims, all these perpetrators, into just one thing.”
Yes, all these stories might look alike from afar, they say. But up close, from the vantage point of their gleaming kitchen, where the searing subject of race is both right outside the door and a world away, it is much more complicated than that. And while they know it might be controversial — they have been accused of everything from being naive and in denial to betraying their race and the larger civil rights cause — they say the alternative is to simplify and flatten the reality of the roll call of deaths.
“There is a national narrative about white officers shooting black kids, and I understand why some people might make this part of that narrative,” Dan says. “But there are real people here, this is real life, we lost a real child. We’re not ready to be spokespeople about other people’s children. What we’re going to do is speak where we’re experts. And we’re experts about our son.”
The reason DJ Henry died, his parents believe, is because he was doing the right thing.
“Our son isn’t here because he complied with a request to move his car,” his father says. “If he hadn’t been compliant, then maybe he would still be here.”