Native American and lifelong civil rights activist Rexdale W. Henry died while in police custody at age 53. Henry was the medicine man for his Choctaw community and a beloved coach in their stickball league. Fellow activist and close friend John Steele described Henry as a "dedicated family man" and his family said he was in good health. He was last seen alive at 10:00 a.m. and was found dead half an hour later. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is allegedly actively investigating the matter, but the state's history with prisoner deaths doesn't inspire much confidence. The same agency is investigating the death of Jonathan Sanders, who died after a police stop. Michael Deangelo McDougle who also died while in police custody late last year. The state is also infamous for the disappearance of three civil rights activists - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner - whose bodies were found 44 days later.
With the help of Steele, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Diane Nash and professors of law at Syracuse University Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson, Henry's family has launched an independent investigation into his death. An autopsy, to be conducted in Florida, was paid for by anonymous donors. McDonald highlighted the importance of a full investigation, saying,
"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."
Henry was arrested on July 9 for failure to pay a fine resulting from a minor traffic infraction. He died on July 14, having spent the last 5 days incarcerated. Details about the circumstances surrounding his incarceration, such as the amount of the fine and the length of the jail sentence, are frustratingly scarce. His death has drawn comparisons to Sandra Bland, with many pointing out that both were activists jailed for minor infractions.
Those who suspect the police of murder aren't overreacting. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice released a report last year entitled "Who Are Police Killing?" The report breaks down killings by police offers into age ranges and racial groups. The report found that the "racial groups most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites, and Asian Americans". Native Americans make up only 0.8% of the population, yet they "are killed by police at a rate higher than any other demographic in the country".
There have been no official results released from the police in Henry's death. His family will make the results of their independent investigation public when available.