Elijah McClain was a kind and gentle soul, an introvert, musician, and massage therapist. He is remembered as “unquashably cheerful,” someone who “impacted an incredible number of lives with his positivity, charm, and humor.” Perhaps most illustrative of his unique spirit, Elijah would spend his lunch breaks playing violin to shelter animals who were waiting to be adopted so they wouldn't get lonely.
Aurora Police End the Bright, Young Life of Elijah McClain
Elijah was 23 years old when he was killed by Aurora Police while walking home in his own neighborhood. He had been dancing to music while walking from the convenience store where he’d gone to pick up tea for his cousin. He was wearing a ski mask, as he frequently did for warmth because he was anemic. Someone called 9-1-1 to report someone who looked suspicious, noting the person was unarmed and not endangering anyone. Three Aurora police officers, responding to the call, approached the young Black man and within moments forced him onto the ground using a carotid chokehold. The three officers, Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard, and Jason Rosenblatt, knelt on Elijah’s 140-lb, handcuffed body, and tortured him for fifteen minutes, at one point even threatening to have police dogs attack him, while Elijah cried, vomited, and begged for his life. Paramedics then shot Elijah with ketamine, a sedative, injecting him with a dose large enough to sedate a man twice his size. Between the massive dose of Ketamine and the physical abuse of the officers, Elijah suffered multiple cardiac arrests, ending his life.
Despite the fact that the assaulting officers’ body-worn cameras all suspiciously detached from their uniforms during the encounter—at one point, an officer spotted another officer’s body camera pointed at him and said, “Move your camera, dude”—the scene was caught on video by the body-worn cameras of other officers observing the incident. Nonetheless, Aurora District Attorney Dave Young declined to file any charges against Elijah’s killers. The officers weren’t even taken off the job.
No Justice For Elijah, No Peace For His Family
For months, Elijah’s family and organizers fought to bring awareness to Elijah’s case. They held vigils and protests, spoke out at city council meetings, and worked for press coverage to fight for accountability. But Elijah’s case only began to receive the widespread attention it deserved when the focus of the entire country shifted onto racist police violence with the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protest movement. Elijah’s name suddenly became known—not just throughout Colorado, but nationally and internationally.
It was this attention that caused Colorado Governor Jared Polis, ten months after Elijah’s murder, to issue an executive order calling for an independent investigation into his death.
Protests throughout the summer continued to bring deepening awareness to Elijah’s case. A change.org petition for “Justice for Elijah McClain” has now received over 5 million signatures from people across the country and around the world. District Attorney Dave Young’s office has received a flood of letters condemning the failure to bring charges against the killers. A number of celebrities including Janelle Monáe, Meagan Good and Jonathan Van Ness spoke out in a video calling out city and state officials for ignoring the calls for justice for Elijah. Professional athletes have donned Elijah’s name on the field; Elijah is even the subject of a recent NFL video highlighting the movement for Black lives.
Still there has been no justice. Elijah’s family and the community need and deserve nothing less than to see the killers charged, convicted, and sent to prison for murder. The McClain family deserves peace and appropriate restitution, reflecting the incredible injustice committed against them.
It is a bitter irony that community organizers who have dedicated themselves to fighting for justice for Elijah and for their community are the ones who are now facing arrests and decades in prison. They have served more time in jail already than any of Elijah’s killers. We demand justice for Elijah McClain and the charges dropped against organizers who have been leading peaceful protests for these just ends.