Riot Police Use Force, Break Up Elijah McClain Vigil
While community members remembered Elijah McClain with a violin vigil, the police responded with pepper spray and batons.
After a full month of nationwide protests in response to a Minneapolis cop killing George Floyd, in many US cities the demonstrations continue and cases are reemerging, breathing new life into the movement against police brutality.
One such case that has grabbed such headlines is the killing of 23-year-old Elijah McClain at the hands of three Aurora police officers on August 24th, 2019. McClain’s death has garnered so much attention for a myriad of factors, including eerie similarities to Trayvon Martin (McClain was returning home from a convenience store), the brutal tactics of the police (a chokehold and ketamine injections), and his tear-jerking last words caught on audio including, “I can’t breathe… that’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry… You are beautiful and I love you.”
The renewed interest in the case attracted international media attention and also drove thousands of people to a protest and vigil for Elijah McClain on Saturday. Despite a peaceful protest and vigil, the Aurora police department rolled up with riot cops to a violin vigil to remember McClain, a violinist who reportedly played the instrument to lonely animals.
To justify deploying violence against peaceful demonstrators, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson claimed Antifa was present at the demonstrations. No reports have shown any protestors using violence against the police at the Saturday events.
Aurora police repeatedly called the violin vigil an unlawful assembly, leading to powerful images of violinists playing as riot cops moved the crowd. The police used pepper spray and batons to intimidate and injure protestors while violinists continue to honor Elijah McClain.
The Antifa justification used by the Aurora police follows a similar pattern of Republicans and President Donald Trump using the loosely-defined antifascist movement as a bogeyman. Despite the constant reminder from the President and his party to the dangers of Antifa, the FBI found no Antifa involvement in past protest violence.
The Aurora police have a frayed relationship with the public beyond the awful case of Elijah McClain. An on-duty Aurora police officer was found passed-out drunk behind the wheel of his car on March 26 of last year, but he faced no criminal charges because the police department did not investigate the case.
Reopening the Case
After much pressure, Colorado Governor Jared Polis directed state officials to investigate the police killing of Elijah McClain.
But many activists and protestors questioned why it took Polis so long to direct an investigation and contrasted his magnanimous words about the McClain case with his forceful condemnation of statue toppling in Denver. Polis said he was “outraged” at statues coming down and continued, “we will use every tool at our disposal to work with Denver police, and to hold accountable those responsible for the damage.”
Demonstrations in the street, public pressure, and international attention led to Polis reopening the case and Denver-area activists have pledged to continue their fight for justice.
But to McClain’s family, the reemergence of Elijah’s case is a bitter reminder that the community did not show up in great numbers when Elijah was killed in the fall. Elijah’s mother Sheneen called out protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s death for not showing up for her son.
“It doesn’t make me feel better that a year later people are becoming aware of it,” she told The Denver Post. “It’s still the same for me, because what was taken from me can never be taken back.”
Similar to protestors, Polis’s words and order to open an investigation are coming very late.