Keeping the Torch Lit for Bakari

Bakari's Parents Jill and Phil Henderson. Charmed Life Photography.
Jill Henderson can already see the Greek courtroom in her mind. She and her husband, Phil, have been there four times already.

The dark, old wooden furniture in the un-air-conditioned chamber promises once again to not have the capacity to hold all of the interested parties. If they’re lucky, they will have a few family members present, as will each of the nine defendants charged with her son’s 2017 death. Each defendant will also be allowed up to three attorneys. Despite the lack of circulating air, all windows will be closed. Greek defendants have been known to jump through courtroom windows to escape attacks by families compelled to take justice into their own hands.

Everybody kept telling us, ‘this is a no brainer

If the past is prologue, justice for Bakari will rest once again in the hands of four selected citizens and three judges who will consider the “proposal” of a local prosecutor. soulciti spoke with Mrs. Henderson, who reflected on the first trial.  “Everybody kept telling us, ‘This is a no brainer’.”  They insisted that justice would be served in Greece because the attack was on camera. After methodically laying out the facts in the case, the prosecutor determined that the evidence pointed to murder. A commensurate sentence was recommended. Prior to this case, jurists had never rejected this prosecutor’s proposals. Without explanation, the charge ended up being comparable to assault in the United States.

The court stenographer was taking notes in longhand, so the Hendersons expected to wait for a copy. However, despite repeated promises of a formal report, to date, no such report has been produced. They hoped that reading the report might explain the surprising outcome of the case.

Many Greek citizens were surprised at the verdict. They found themselves confronting the largely untested question of whether black lives matter in Greece. Those who were so sure of a murder verdict did not take into account that this time, the victim was a black man. Since the recent rise of far-right fundamentalism in Greece, cases that were once considered open and shut based on the facts of the case, are not so easily resolved if they involve race or other usually protected classes.

Anxious to launch his own line of sportswear after graduating from college, Greece was the first of two international trips Bakari planned to leverage some business connections. “Bakari was all about relationships,” his mother recalled. One evening, he was hanging out in a bar on the Greek island of Zakynthos and was seen taking a selfie with a young woman he’d met there. “There are a lot of Serbs in the bar. Why are you talking to a black guy?”, a Serbian patron standing nearby angrily asked her. He then confronted Bakari and slapped him. After a brief fight in the bar, the men were told to take their conflict outside. After chatting with the bar owner on the sidewalk, Bakari figured the skirmish was over. Moments later, a mob of at least eight men pursued him and brutally beat him. Medical experts say he died within 30 seconds.

The two youngest defendants were acquitted, their part determined to warrant no jail time at all. Five defendants received sentences ranging from five to ten years. The sole British citizen in the mob received the longest sentence, 15 years, for “intentional bodily harm.” Only three defendants are still serving time for the deadly 2017 attack. Several were released after serving as little as one-fifth of their sentence. Because of the unusual minimization of the charges, a prosecutor has ordered a retrial.

On Thanksgiving Day, the second trial will resume. The Hendersons will arrive in Greece, hopeful for a legal outcome that affirms the value of Bakari’s life. They will make their way there, despite drastically reduced assistance from the Department of State. The Trump Administration has made recent budget and staffing cuts once allocated for families like theirs. The Hendersons may be going with judicial winds in their faces, but they remain hopeful.

The local Austin community is encouraged to follow this story and offer support in several ways:

  • Use #justice4bakari on social media to help bring needed attention to the case.
  • Support the Bakari Foundation, founded to support other families who have lost loved ones “at the hands of another.” Your support will generate much-needed revenue to defray legal and international travel costs.
  • And finally, The Bakari Luxury Sportswear Line was launched to ensure that his dream did not end with his time here on earth. Cop you a piece, and when asked about the brand, share Bakari’s story.

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