Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old massage therapist who lived in Aurora, Colo., outside of Denver. He was 5 feet, 7 inches and 140 pounds. He was also a violin player who used his talent to soothe animals.
Elijah McClain was killed August 24, 2019. What was his crime? Walking while Black and unarmed. The police officers who killed him were white.
Similar to the hoodie-wearing Trayvon Martin — the 17-year-old African-American teenager murdered by racist vigilante George Zimmerman eight years ago in Florida — Elijah McClain was targeted because he wore a mask due to a health condition — and because he was Black. While McClain was out getting iced tea for a relative, the police stopped him because someone reported he looked “suspicious.” Sound familiar?
McClain was listening to music and did not hear any commands the police gave him. The cops pounced on him and put him into not one, but two illegal chokeholds, so that he lost consciousness. When the emergency medical team arrived, McClain, already subdued, on the ground and handcuffed, received a heavy dose of the sedative ketamine.
McClain’s sobbing, pleading voice can be heard on the cops’ body camera recording. He is saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.” (Washington Post, June 29) McClain then went into cardiac arrest, was pronounced brain dead and died days later after he was taken off a ventilator.
None of the police officers who killed McClain were arrested for murder. The Aurora district attorney decided not to file charges, saying he was sure there would be no conviction.
Finally, on July 1, almost a year after McClain’s death, the Aurora Interim Chief of Police, Vanessa Wilson, made the decision to put the officers responsible on paid administrative leave after pictures emerged on social media showing Aurora cops mocking the chokehold that killed McClain. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced the McClain case would be reopened for review.
Viviana Weinstein, an anti-racist activist in Denver, told WW, “You know that the police murder case of Elijah McClain is over a year old. The tipping point was reached after George Floyd’s murder by police. The year-long suffering that Elijah’s family has gone through brought out cries from the Black community in Aurora.
“The family said: ‘Every time this happens our whole community suffers trauma. Our safety is at risk every day. The police murder us and rape us over and over every day. We do not need murderers who call themselves protectors.’”
Weinstein continued: “Marty Newman, a lawyer for the McClain family, said, ‘All the officers should have been fired long ago. Two of the three watched and stood by while Elijah was tortured and murdered. If one had spoken up, he would be alive today. But they didn’t.’
“The APD (Aurora Police Department) has a long racist history. And now the Aurora Police Association no longer supports the police chief because she fired those officers [who took the photos]. So much for the bad apple theory.
“Another supporter has said, ‘You cannot reform your way out of this and make kinder police. Justice means dismantling the whole apparatus.’”
The Black Lives Matter-led uprising, which erupted from the public police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, has helped to elevate to the national level so many other cases of police terror, both in the present and the past. For instance, on July 4 in a park in Maplewood, N.J. — half a continent from Colorado — a violin memorial was held for McClain.
In Aurora, protesters have vowed to demonstrate in front of the local police precinct until the police are charged and arrested. And over 2 million people have signed a petition demanding justice for Elijah McCain. Go to tinyurl.com/ycjcrscz to sign the petition.