When 22-year-old Bakari Henderson graduated from the University of Arizona in Tuscon with a degree in Business Finance and Entrepreneurship, he wanted to focus his attention on his dreams to become a world-famous fashion designer. He went to visit the Greek islands with some friends, with the hope of kick-starting his career there.
However, dreams turned to nightmares when Henderson found himself on the receiving end of racial slurs at the hands of nine Serbian men at the bar. The ruckus was sparked after Henderson asked to take a selfie with a Serbian waitress; what happened next was simply tragic…
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Henderson had always loved traveling and having graduated from college he had the perfect reason to go and visit places he had never been to before. The trip to Laganas, a party island in Greece known for its nightlife, was twofold as Henderson was there with friends to do a promotional photo shoot as well as to party. Moreover, Henderson had plans to launch a clothing line, and the photo shoot on the island was the perfect backdrop for it.
Henderson was out at one of the island’s many bars one night with his friends, drinking and generally having a good time. Laganas is known to be an alcohol-fueled party kind of place, and Henderson and his buddies were having a great vacation. The mostly 18-30 crowd was lively, but the last thing Henderson was looking for was trouble. However, trouble found him.
Like most tourists who want to capture their vacation memories on film, Henderson got chatting at one bar to a waitress who happened to be from Serbia. But when he asked if he could snap a selfie with the waitress, a group of Serbian men at the bar took issue with him.
Henderson wasn’t coming onto the waitress; the two had just gotten along while Henderson was at the bar she worked at. Having downed a few chasers, Henderson innocently asked the waitress for a quick selfie, which she accepted. But the group of Serbian men took issue with the fact she was talking to a black man, and things soon went from boisterous drinking to something far more sinister.
Henderson and his buddies had no idea when they entered that bar that the owners were putting on a Serbian-themed night for the hundreds of Serbs vacationing on the island. Sure, a number of the people at the bar were Serbs but not everyone was, and Henderson was enjoying the drinks and the company of his friends and the waitress.
At one point, a group of Serbian men were getting agitated that a Serbian waitress was talking to a black man and taking selfies. “There are so many Serbs in this bar. Why are you talking to a black?” said one of the men according to a Los Angeles Times report. A man then threw a glass towards the waitress and went over to slap Henderson, simply for being black.
At least seven men took the fight to Henderson outside, and a portion of the violence was caught on CCTV and used in court later. The group of men mercilessly beat and kicked Henderson when he fell to the ground, with “murderous intent” according to court documents. Tragically, Henderson sustained life-threatening injuries during the attack and died in the nearby hospital later that night.
According to the indictment, the group of men showed no mercy or remorse when it came to Henderson. “The 6th defendant kicked him with his right foot in the back and the neck with the victim falling in the street and remaining immobile after having lost consciousness,” read the indictment. “Subsequently the 6th kicked him again, but this time with his right foot in the head, the 1st leaned over him and hit him repeatedly in the head with brass knuckles.” The attack was unprovoked and unnecessary and Henderson’s family wanted justice.
Two additional security cameras caught the melee outside of the conflict between the men. One shows Henderson wearing shorts and a t-shirt backing away down the street as the group approaches him. He kicked one of them in an attempt to deter the attack but to no avail. The other camera shows that that kick was ineffective and seemed to aggravate the group of men further.
The CCTV cameras captured the beating as Henderson fell to the ground in the middle of the street. According to the indictment, Henderson received a total of 33 blows within just 11 seconds to the torso and head, averaging three blows per second.
The victim’s devastated parents, Jill and Phil Henderson, employed local attorneys to represent them in court. Chryssa Vouldi told reporters: “The parents of the victim are looking for justice,” she said. “But they are also looking for answers as to how they lost their child in just 11 seconds in the most brutal manner.” Six of the nine defendants were charged with first-degree murder which carries a life sentence in Greece.
When it came to the trial, mainly for technical reasons, the men were acquitted of first-degree murder and instead charged with and convicted of assault which only carries a five- to fifteen-year sentence. The Hendersons and their legal team, as well as many other people, were shocked by this decision and a re-trial was immediately called for. The victim’s father denounced the original verdict, claiming it proved that a man’s life “means nothing in Greece.”
During the initial trial, when the verdict came down for assault charges only, the group of men hi-fived and smiled broadly showing their contempt and lack of remorse. None of the men were named publicly, and they received sentences of up to ten years only. As Jill Henderson told reporters on the Greek island: “I don’t feel that it was justice for a murder.” But a prosecutor has now called on a more senior panel of judges to hear the case to pursue first-degree murder charges against the group of men.
Another lawyer representing the family explained that the Hendersons were shocked by the initial verdict in court. “It’s a decision that shocked the family. Because, according to our opinion and the prosecutor … the sentences handed out weren’t proportionate to the brutality of the act,” said Andreas Patsis. As Jill Henderson said, “You should not be able to chase a man down and beat him to death and not go to jail.”
The Henderson’s were understandably thrilled at the prospect of a re-trial. “We were surprised that it took place so quickly, so we were pleased with the outcome of that. So, hopefully, this next go around will be more positive,” said Jill Henderson. While the Hendersons are excited about the re-trial, they are aware that it means re-living the trauma again. “It just makes it more complicated for us because now we kind of have to re-live everything again,” said Jill.
The Victim’s father, Phil Henderson, addressed the courtroom in Greece, regarding the murder of his son. “We would hope and pray that no other family goes through this,” he said. “Our life has changed. Bakari was a beautiful young man with a bright, bright future.”
A friend of the deceased also spoke in court and explained that it was pure coincidence and bad luck that the American tourists had ended up at that particular bar. “It’s the first bar on the strip you see. There were people in there, and they looked fun,” the witness, who can’t be identified under European privacy laws, told the court. The witness also explained that Henderson had tried his best to diffuse the tense situation at the bar.
The friend explained in court that while Henderson “was one of the best people I knew at defusing situations,” he was unsuccessful in this instance and that fact ultimately cost him his life. The attackers were already very drunk by this point and had racist intent when it came to administering a beating to Henderson. His parents were taken by police to see the site where their son was attacked to afford them some closure.
As Jill told reporters from the island, seeing where her son had been attacked and killed was “definitely something we needed to do to put all this in perspective.” She added, “It was heartbreaking to see the distance Bakari had run to get anyway from them.” But the fate of the attackers remains unclear pending the upcoming trial for first-degree murder.
No matter what happens with the new trial, even if the group of men is convicted and sent to jail for life, the grieving process for the Hendersons has been a challenging one. No parent should have to suffer a loss such as this, especially when the motive is racial hatred. The case is due to come to trial soon as prosecutors work to build a watertight case that will bring the justice that the Henderson family so deserves.