Damien Henderson scrawled the words "Rest in Paradise" on a vent outside his brother Ryan's dorm room at Jackson State University last week before leading approximately 200 college students dressed in red in a peaceful march to the Palisades Apartments, where Ryan was shot and killed March 25.
At the time, the Henderson family blamed Ryan's death on JSU football players who the 19-year-old freshman had, according to witnesses, taken a beating from in the hours before his death.
"This is nothing new. This has been going on for a long time," Ryan's father, Nolan Henderson, said on the day of the march. Nolan Henderson said that when he attended JSU in the early 1980s, university officials went out of their way to protect athletes.
But three days later, a messier picture emerged: Yes, Ryan Henderson had fought some football players but the bullet that killed him came from the gun of Jarrod Emerson, Henderson's cousin, according to a statement from City Hall officials.
Jackson police officials said Emerson, who is charged with murder in Henderson's death, turned himself in March 28 and helped investigators recover two handguns he possessed.
The night he died, Henderson had called Emerson after being assaulted at a party at the Palisades Apartments, near the campus of Jackson State University. Emerson then reportedly met up with Henderson at U.S. 80 and Lynch Street before heading back to the Palisades Apartments to confront the people Henderson said beat him up.
Emerson, armed with 9 mm and .40-caliber handguns, confronted "several individuals" at the complex, pulled his weapon and fired several shots with the .40-caliber gun, Assistant Police Chief Lee Vance told reporters March 29. The crowd scattered and Henderson was shot in the face.
Vance also confirmed long-swirling rumors that Henderson had been involved in an altercation with "some of the football players" from JSU. The cookout and pool party that took place at the apartment complex was reportedly for graduating members of the football team.
Police sought murder charges against Emerson after consulting with Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith's office, Vance said. Despite Henderson apparently having scars on his knuckles and a wound on his head, Vance said that because Henderson left the party under his own power, police couldn't make an arrest for his alleged assault unless an eyewitness comes forward.
D'Andra Orey, a political science professor at JSU, who focuses on issues of race and politics, said the incidents surrounding Henderson's death represent what he calls internalized racism (formerly known in sociology circles as self-hatred).
Black males, he said, often internalize racist stereotypes that they are supposed to be violent. JSU should take the lead in erasing internalized racism, which often manifests in the form of black-on-black violence, by introducing more positive images of African Americans in the curriculum, Orey said.
"We have not addressed black-on-back crime with same energy that we have nonblack-on-black crime—and that's problematic," he said.