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Choctaw activist jailed over fine found dead in Mississippi cell

Rexdale Henry, 53, died in Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, 80 miles (129 km) northeast of Jackson, on July 14. The cause of his death is currently unknown. According to WTOK, corrections officers found his body just after 10 a.m.; he was last seen alive about half an hour earlier. The Jackson Free Press reports a private autopsy is underway to determine the cause of Henry’s death; the state crime lab has already conducted an autopsy and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is looking into the case.

Henry, a member of the Choctaw tribe, was a lifetime community activist and had been a candidate for the Choctaw Tribal Council from Bogue Chitto a week before his July 9 arrest for failure to pay a fine. His funeral was held on July 19 in Bogue Chitto. Among those in attendance were his widow, daughter, two sons, 12 grandchildren, mother and brother.

Civil rights activist John Steele, who was a close friend of Henry’s, is assisting his family with their independent investigation. Steele is working with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) co-founder Diane Nash, 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’s death occurred one day after Bland, a #BlackLivesMatter activist from the Chicago area, was found dead in a Waller County, Texas jail overseen by a sheriff fired from his previous police chief job for racism. Bland was arrested during a routine traffic stop for failure to use her turn signal. Authorities have ruled her death a suicide.

A day before Henry was arrested, 39-year-old Jonathan Sanders died after a police stop in nearby Clarke County, Mississippi. Sanders, who was unarmed, died after being locked in a police chokehold for more than 20 minutes and denied CPR, even after repeatedly telling Stonewall police officer Kevin Herrington that he could not breathe. Witnesses told investigators that Herrington said he was “going to get that nigger” before confronting the victim. Sanders’ death has been ruled a homicide by manual asphyxiation.

Yet another Mississippi man, Troy Goode, died earlier this month after being hogtied by Southaven police after acting erratically, possibly due to drug use, upon leaving a Widespread Panic concert. Goode reportedly told police he was having difficulty breathing due to asthma.

Neshoba County, where Henry died, has a dubious civil rights history. On June 21, 1964, activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were taken to the Neshoba County Jail on trumped-up charges during the heady days of the Freedom Summer. The trio disappeared shortly after their arrest; their bodies were found 44 days later. The story of their murder and the subsequent FBI investigation is told in the Academy Award-winning 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

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