The results of the state’s autopsy still haven’t been released to the public weeks after Henry’s death.
NESHOBA COUNTY, Mississippi — Rexdale W. Henry, a Choctaw activist, died in Mississippi’s Neshoba County Jail earlier this month under circumstances that remain mysterious. Coming just one day after the alleged suicide of black civil rights activist Sandra Bland in Texas, questions are being raised about how an apparently healthy man died in police custody and why autopsy results are being withheld from the public and the media.
Henry was arrested on July 9 for an unpaid fine and held over the weekend. He was found dead on July 14 at 10:00 a.m., just 30 minutes after police said they had last seen him alive, according to the local ABC affiliate, WTOK. Cassandra Fairbanks, writing for Photography Is Not A Crime, commented:
“Officials have been keeping extremely tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding his death, perhaps hoping to avoid the public scrutiny and backlash that Waller County is facing for their negligence leading to Bland’s death.
Now activists are helping Henry’s family seek answers, starting with demands for an independent autopsy, R.L. Nave reported for Jackson Free Press on Saturday:
“The caste system still exists here…there is a whole race of people here who are treated like second-class citizens.”
“Helping with the family’s independent probe are civil-rights activists John Steele, a close friend of Henry’s, and Diane Nash, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as Syracuse University law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson of the school’s Cold Case Justice Initiative.
‘At a time when the nation is focused on the terrible circumstances of the brutal death of Sandra Bland, it is critical to expose the many ways in which Black Americans, Native Americans and other minorities are being arrested for minor charges and end up dead in jail cells,’ McDonald said in a statement.”
Henry was an active member of his tribal community and an activist for native rights. The death of an activist in a Mississippi jail is an unpleasant reminder of the death of Michael Deangelo McDougle, who died in the same jail in November, as well as the state’s history of racist violence — in particular, the deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, who were arrested in Neshoba County during the 1964 “Freedom Summer” civil rights movement. Their bodies were later found buried in a dam nearby.
— Black Intifada (@IntifadaBlack) July 27, 2015
Waller County, Texas, where Sandra Bland died, has a similar legacy of racism. According to The New York Times, Prairie View A&M University, the historically black college where Bland graduated and had intended to interview for a job on the day of her arrest, had just won a lengthy legal battle over students’ voting rights days before the incident. Even police and county officials investigating her death have a questionable history when it comes to civil rights. Speaking to the Times, one friend of Bland’s emphasized the oppression present in the county:
“‘The caste system still exists here,’ said LaVaughn Mosley, a former counselor at Prairie View A&M who had been friends with Ms. Bland since her undergraduate days. ‘There is a whole race of people here who are treated like second-class citizens.’