Thousands gathered to demand justice for Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old Black man who died after an encounter with Aurora police officers in August

By Claudia Harmata
June 28, 2020 07:30 PM
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Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Over the weekend, thousands gathered to demand justice for Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old Black man who died after an encounter with Aurora, Colorado, police officers.

Peaceful protesters gathered at the Aurora Municipal Center and later shut down Highway 225 on Saturday as they marched for McClain, who went into a coma and died after being placed in a chokehold by Aurora police last August.

However, as the day went on, tensions between protesters and police began to rise and authorities announced that the protest was now an “illegal gathering," according to The Denver Post.

At around 8:15 p.m. local time, police warned demonstrators that they had to leave or they would deploy the use of pepper spray.

The Aurora Police Department later said that "Pepper spray was used after a small group of people gathered rocks/sticks, knocked over a fence, & ignored orders to move back. Tear gas was not used."

They also said that "three people were taken into custody for violating lawful orders after warnings were given."

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Following the protests and unrest, a vigil was held as eight violinists joined in a circle playing melodies on McClain's favorite instrument.

Alex Burness, a journalist with The Post, shared a clip from the gathering, which showed the musicians performing as protesters stood nearby and listened, some even lighting candles. 

In another tweet, shared by journalist Marc Sallinger, one violinist can be seen performing for a crowd of protesters as police in riot gear deployed pepper spray and used batons to push them back.

"As police in riot gear were spraying protesters with pepper spray and using batons to push them back at the #ElijahMcClain protest in Aurora today, this man began playing the violin. One of the most surreal scenes I’ve ever seen. Music is powerful," Sallinger reported.

The protests come after the Colorado Attorney General's Office agreed to investigate McClain's death after an outcry on social media.

"Elijah McClain should be alive today," Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement released Thursday. "His life mattered and his death was tragic. The pain, frustration, and anger that his family and many Coloradans are feeling from his death is understandable and justified."

Rally Held In Colorado Demanding Justice For Elijah McClain
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

"Whenever someone dies after an encounter with law enforcement, the community deserves a thorough investigation," he said. "Our investigation will be thorough, guided by the facts, and worthy of public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system."

The City of Aurora also is planning a review, as more than 3.2 million people signed an online petition urging Mayor Mike Coffman, the Aurora Police Department and Adams County District Attorney Dave Young to "bring justice for Elijah" with "a more in-depth" investigation into what happened on August 24, 2019, when McClain was confronted by two officers as he walked home.

The petition demands the immediate removal of the two officers, who remain on the force after Young concluded last November that "there is no reasonable likelihood of success of proving any state crimes beyond a reasonable doubt at trial," KUSA reported.

Elijah McClain
GoFundMe

Weiser's announcement followed an executive order by Gov. Jared Polis that appointed Weiser as a special prosecutor to investigate the death.

At the time he encountered the officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema —McClain was returning from a store where he'd purchased four cans of iced tea. When police approached him, McClain was wearing a ski mask — something the anemic man did often, as his chronic condition usually made his face feel colder when he went on walks.

According to authorities, a struggle ensued as the officers tried to detain the unarmed McClain, placing him in a chokehold and pinning him to the ground for 15 minutes.

While pinned, McClain allegedly started vomiting and told the officers he was having difficulty breathing. Paramedics were summoned to the scene, and, claiming McClain was in an agitated state, they injected him with ketamine, a sedative.

McClain suffered a heart attack and fell into a coma. He was removed from life support six days later, on Aug. 30, 2019.

The police administration initially defended the officers' actions because McClain was wearing a ski mask.

Earlier this month, Aurora authorities announced a ban on the use of chokeholds by its officers.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help McClain's relatives, who spoke to protesters on the steps of City Hall Saturday.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.