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Aurora Police use unnecessary force at a peaceful vigil for Elijah McClain

Published on: June 28th, 2020

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*Updated June 29th, 2020 to reflect the breaking story of photographs of  Aurora police officers posing in the carotid chokehold at the site where Elijah McClain was killed by 3 Aurora police officers. 

 

Photo by Brittney Buckley

 

 

Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old, quiet young man, who played the violin. He was walking home from getting his brother an iced tea at the store, wearing headphones and an open-face ski mask he used to combat getting cold due to anemia. That’s all he was doing.

 

Yet someone called the police on him. Aurora Police decided to stop him for “suspicious behavior” which involved nothing more than walking down the street. 

 

Within 15 minutes, McClain gasped for air, because the first responders had nearly killed him. Three days later life support was pulled and he died.

 

 

To read a full account of Elijah McClain’s killing, The Cut provides a well-detailed report

 

 

 

Elijah McClain’s Final Words to the Police:

Elijah McClain's Final Words to the Police were Heart Breaking

His name was Elijah McClain. He was an introvert, he played violin. He was getting ice tea for his brother. He was just dancing to music as he was going home. His final words to the Police were heart breaking.Please share this video and sign the petition to open an independent investigation to get all officers involved held accountable. https://www.change.org/p/adams-county-district-attorney-justice-for-elijah-mcclain-2

Posted by Karim Jovian on Saturday, June 27, 2020

 

“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here … My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat. But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better … I will do it … I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

 

Why officers had to restrain a man who weighed no more than approximately 140 pounds and was clearly not resisting the unnecessary arrest, is a puzzle to us. This level of aggression is not needed or helpful in society. 

 

According to the police on the scene, Elijah McClain had “incredible strength” as he was gasping for breath and begging to be let go. Listening to the video, it mostly sounds like Elijah is gasping for his life. 

 

The District Attorney came to the decision that the police acted in accordance with the law. 

 

Over the years, Aurora, alongside Denver, has had a long history of police violence. In fact, it could be stated that the Aurora Police department is corrupt enough to consider disbanding the entire department. The case of the “drunken officer slouched in his police car with his gun in the patrol car seat” never being charged is just one of many examples. 

 

 

Reports of Aurora Police misconduct:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alcohol is not the only substance cops have been known to abuse. It is a long-known problem that many officers are abusing steroids, and perhaps if we do not dismantle this department, they should at least be tested regularly for substance abuse, covering all manner of drugs and alcohol. 

 

 

 

Several years ago, following the killing of Michael Brown, I went to the Aurora City Hall as part of a protest that local minister and Community Organizer, Anthony Grimes, had organized. While there were maybe 75 protesters max (mostly black), there were at least 75-100 Aurora Police Officers surrounding the protest, many on the roofs with guns pointed at the crowd. Quite a different scene from Boulder Colorado, where protestors at the time had shut down Highway 36 with the help of the Boulder Police. 

 

In December 2019 I reached out to Mayor Mike Coffman asking him why the bodycam footage had not been released. I got a pat response from his aide, but what made the response even weirder is they commented on my home listing on Zillow, alongside emailing me. When I asked why they would use Zillow as a form of communication, I never received a response back. A little creepy to say the least. 

 

 

 

YS previous coverage of this story:

 

 

Below are first-person accounts of how Aurora Police handled the protest.

 

Aurora Police is rumored to have immediately called the protests violent as soon as the permit was pulled. We do know, that instead of learning from Denver Police, Aurora Police chose to call the Vigil, with adult and children violinists and cellists playing classical music, an Unlawful Assembly in order to justify the use of force.

 

Alongside these stories, we know that Aurora Police fired teargas and pepper spray at a peaceful assembly that included children playing the violin.

Photo by Dan Rib

 

Per the ACLU:

 

What happens if the police issues an order to disperse the protest?

  • Shutting down a protest through a dispersal order must be law enforcement’s last resort.
  • Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.
  • If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path.
  • Individuals must receive clear and detailed notice of a dispersal order, including how much time they have to disperse, the consequences of failing to disperse, and what clear exit route they can follow, before they may be arrested or charged with any crime.

 

It is clear by the countless videos that the Aurora Police and Sheriff failed to follow any of the prerequisites before declaring the assembly “unlawful”, while most importantly, public safety was not at risk, and yet none of the officers or leaders will face charges for trampling on the First Amendment in such a blatant and violent way.

 

Aurora Police are demonstrating that they are no longer able to uphold the law to serve and protect and the question must be asked, not should, but when should they be dismantled?

 

Editor Johnathan Duran gives a first-hand report via Facebook Live:

Johnathan was able to capture on film the police sending pepper spray and tear gas at the peacefully assembled crowd. 

Aurora PD threatens arrest or use of chemical agents. I have no press identifier.

Posted by Duran Johnathen on Saturday, June 27, 2020

 

Aurora PD threatens arrest or use of chemical agents. I have no press identifier.

Posted by Duran Johnathen on Saturday, June 27, 2020

 

Cut the Plastic 5-hour coverage of the event:

 

Aurora Police storm the Vigil and start firing rubber bullets and tear gas:

(spotty reception is suspected cell signals being jammed)

 

The cops just deemed this an unlawful assembly.

Posted by John Kelly on Saturday, June 27, 2020

 

Additional Video Coverage:

 

 

 

Reddit Timeline of the event with corresponding video

 

 

 

STORIES:

 

Jolene Fisher

Assistant Professor in the Department Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design at University of Colorado Boulder

 

Hi, y’all. I know you rarely see me post on FB, but I have something really important that I need to share. Please see my FB Story for videos and details of the horrible actions taken by the Aurora, CO Police Department last night during a violin vigil for Elijah McClain. I am going to document the timeline of experience in detail below. Their actions were unacceptable and it needs to be documented. ACLU of Colorado Governor Jared Polis The Denver Post Daily Camera
As a reminder, three officers from the Aurora PD murdered Elijah McClain almost a year ago. They have worked with and protected his murderers every day since. Last night, at a violin vigil for Elijah, they shot tear gas into a park filled with children and pushed those gathered into a parking lot. Later they started arresting people.

 

4 p.m. – we arrived for the rally and march led by area high school leaders. I am sad that I don’t know the names of the speakers but they were fierce! Amazing. The kids are all right, that’s for sure. The organizer noted that the police department had tried to stop this rally from happening, but they were able to get the permits and make it happen anyways.

 

We marched through Aurora, closing down some of the town’s busiest intersections. The organizers KEPT ON REMINDING US TO BE PEACEFUL. Again and again they said – be peaceful. If someone tries to start something look away. At one point while we were all kneeling in the middle of an intersection a White guy in a giant truck (of course) got angry we were blocking his way and honked and did this quick peel out and people started to yell. The organizer stopped us and said “That right there is what you ignore!”

 

On our way back towards the Aurora Municipal Building the organizer stopped and said they were getting word that there might be an incident happening back in the park between police and protestors and that we were going to not go back there and instead end outside of the park to protect the many young people in the march. It was ALL about peace and safety while making our presence known.

 

When we got back to the area near the Municipal Building someone got on a megaphone and said that police had come out in riot gear and had their gas and rubber bullet guns out and were taking a concerning stance against the protestors there. They asked anyone who was comfortable with it to go over and be another body so that the police wouldn’t feel they could take unlawful actions against the group gathered. We (me, my husband and sister in law) felt it was right to go over.

 

So, we stood for over two hours with a group of maybe 150 (max) people near the Aurora Police Department. The police had erected a fence that we were behind; they had on full riot gear and had their rubber bullet and gas guns out. We chanted; people screamed at them; but nothing done by the protestors was unlawful.

Police kept taking a step back, then they would randomly advance towards the fence and the group. Every single time they did this every single protestor put their hands up in the air and chanted Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. Every time. At one point the police got on their megaphone and said they saw someone with cement and if we threw cement we would be arrested. We were honestly in a small area – there were no rocks around, no sticks, no cement. And nothing, I repeat NOTHING was thrown.

 

8 p.m. – After about two hours we realized the violin vigil had started (this is literally right behind us) so we walked over and sat in the grass to enjoy. Maybe 20 minutes later we hear the police on their megaphone say “This is an unlawful gathering” they then start shooting tear gas and people start running. The cops start advancing in a huge wall (have to be more than 70 of them). Children are bawling, mothers are frantically trying to gather their kids. The police are pushing us back and back. At one point I kneeled down in front of them because I couldn’t back up (people behind me) – if my husband hadn’t grabbed my shirt and pulled me back they would have just run me down.

 

Half of the officers have their badge names and numbers blacked out. That half is extra aggressive. They start using their batons in a rowing motion to push people back. Someone falls.

 

Suddenly, an amazing human pulls his truck around, jumps in the back, and starts playing his violin over a speaker. The police can now either literally push us into the truck or stop. We all start dancing to the music – they are still trying to push but finally stop. We then have 45 minutes of exquisite beauty – musicians are playing, everyone is singing and dancing, the mood is total peace and unity and honestly beautiful. Beautiful.

 

The police let it go on until they apparently get tired. They decide to start pushing those who are still in the park – some who were originally near the stage for the violin music but had gotten walled in by police – into the parking lot. The music stops. Things get tense again. It’s now protestors chanting. We decide to leave around 9:30 (I think). The police start arresting people. #defundthepolice

 

Kino Alyse

 

Although the afternoon protest was a peaceful one, the anger was palpable. Organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, thousands of people gathered to listen to those close to Elijah McClain, including his family, part vigil, part dire promotion for racially-motivated murders to stop. Many of the protestors came in the same ski mask Elijah was wearing on the night he was murdered despite the intense Saturday afternoon heat.

 

“The only way that I want people to go home satisfied tonight is that tonight, before midnight, they put every single one of those killers in jail. They put the paramedics in jail and the sergeant in jail,” exclaimed one of the protestors into the microphone. Several speakers notated snipers on the boarded up municipal building’s roof.

 

A youth-led march began after the family and some leaders were finished speaking. [I’m not sure how many… maybe 3-5k??] protestors marched, danced, and sung their way west towards 225 and marched north. Along the way, a woman had a medical emergency. A truck was quickly on the scene as protestors made way and she was taken to the hospital.

 

The protest led back onto the streets of Aurora almost incident free: a woman tried to run over a protestor. Protestors retaliated by beating on her car. While she was in the crowd, leaders were quick to respond and disperse the crowd, asking to let her go.

 

The march ended back at the municipal building where more demonstrations were had.

 

Dan Rib

Dan Rib Media from McClain Vigil

 

I, unfortunately, did not have the ability to make it to the afternoon protests at City Center Park in Aurora due to prior commitments. However, my evening was free so I was very excited to attend the publicly advertised violin concert and vigil for Elijah McClain at 8:30pm in front of the Aurora Municipal Center. As I drove into the neighborhood around 7:45pm I saw sign-holding protesters walking away from the area, having been there since early afternoon. I found parking in the neighborhood bordering the park, where I saw a couple walking toward the park, both carrying violin cases. I passed multiple families walking their dogs in the direction of the park as well.

 

I have been to many of the downtown Denver protests and bring a backpack of supplies ranging from first aid, to ski goggles, to water and snacks. Those events are protests and I expect to see police and understand that anything can happen. But this event was a peaceful concert, so I left that backpack at home in favor of a vest, blazer, and fedora to go with my cloth facemask for coronavirus safety measures. Seeing all the musicians and families walking in my direction, I knew I had made the correct decision.

 

As I turned the corner of the Aurora City Municipal Court Building, I could hear and see a crowd of protesters echoing familiar protest chants toward the Police Department Building. The crowd was gathered between the History Museum and the Courthouse facing about 30 riot police – all standing at attention, batons in hand and armed as one would expect for a riot. Behind this group of protesters on the lawn in front of the Municipal Building was where the majority of the crowd was assembled…where all the musician and families were congregating.

 

It’s my understanding the riot police were in front of the police station in response to the earlier protests, but as the protest ended and the concert crowd grew, the Aurora police seemingly took the growing crowd size as a threat and announced, “We see people with rocks. This gathering is no longer legal. You are now subject to arrest and chemical agents.” At that announcement, a swarm of riot police poured out of the surrounding buildings and flanked the crowd. “Move out of the park. This has been deemed an unlawful gathering and if you remain you are subject to arrest and chemical agents.” continued to blast from a megaphone behind the line of face-masked troops. Many people retreated from the protest area upon seeing the reinforcements march in, others booed and held their ground.

 

At that point, I had retreated to half way across the lawn. Like a vast majority of the attendees, I had nothing to protect myself from chemical agents if they were deployed so I wasn’t going to stand near the front line of the conflict. As I recorded the scene unfolding on my phone the call for a medic was screamed and a woman was being dragged back into the park away from the police. Shortly after, a billow of while smoke was released and folks started retreating en masse. The line of riot police stretched across the entire park and they began to slowing push their line across the grass.

 

At this point, it was just about 8:30 and a group of musicians had begun playing in front of the Municipal Center. Looking east there was music and dancing. But turn around toward the sunset and under the colorful clouded sky a militaristic black line of gas masked troopers was advancing on the crowd.

 

Eventually, the police had pressed the entire crowd, including the musicians (which they did allow to pack their things up peacefully) off the lawn and entirely into the south parking lot. Their directive was to secure the grass. As the crowd squeezed back, a loud blast of violin came from the back of a pickup truck. A man stood up on the tailgate, speakers in the truck bed, and started playing “Dream On” o his electric violin in an epic tribute to Elijah McClain. The crowd was compressed up to the truck, both out of adoration of the skill and passion from this musician, but also because the police line had pressed them a far as they could go. The batons of the police were at attention inches from the backs of the rows of vigil attendees.

 

The sidewalk at the end of the lawn was where the riot brigade remained until about 11pm. Groups of musicians played on the concrete with no amplification for a few hours. Some of the remaining crowd listened to a protester with a megaphone speak about politics on the far side of the lot. Police and news helicopters blasted the crowd with their spotlights periodically. And once the crowd had dwindled to just a few hundred, the police retreated, militaristically back into the police department building with the crowd at their heels chanting “Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey, Goodbye!”

 

At one point during the evening, I spoke to one of the police officers who told me that prior to the past few weeks, they had never previously used the riot gear in his time as an officer. When I asked why this vigil was grounds for the actions that were taken by the police, another officer answered, “Oh, I don’t think we should answer that question.” Another officer claimed that the smoke released earlier was just a smoke bomb, not tear gas. But as we’ve all been made aware of in the past month, when you release a smoke bomb and then spray pepper spray into that the cloud of smoke, it has similar effects as a tear gas cannister.

 

This event was meant to be peaceful. At no point while I was watching or recording did a single protestor instigate violence toward the police. It is my wholehearted opinion that had the riot police not been unleashed on the crowd, the event would have gone on entirely without incident.

 

Angie Simmons

 

I attended most of the 4pm rally for Elijah McClain on Sunday, Jun 27th at Municipal Hall in Aurora.  My partner and I arrived a bit after the rally began, around 4:30pm. 

 

 As we walked along the Alameda side of the building complex, we noted about 6 officers in (at least) partial riot gear, standing alongside squad cars, blocking the entrance off Alameda.  They were blocking people from entering on foot here to get to the rally on the opposing side of the building.  

 

We walked past this entrance to go through the walking gardens on footpaths to get to the parking lot and rally area.  At this point, we didn’t see many police on the ground in the immediate rally area.  

 

There was a good-sized crowd focused at the staging area where black youth were speaking and the crowd was responsive.  There was a secondary group in the back area (away from the stage space) that seemed to be doing a lot of call and response rally chants, building energy.  This was ongoing throughout the rally.  Many people were wearing supportive shirts, signs, and masks.  

 

We had to leave around 5:45 or so and walked back toward our car, but by this time walking out the Alameda Street entrance had been blocked.  We chose to drive back to this intersection in our car when leaving just in time to see the rally on foot, turning its energy mobile as it blocked the intersection, kneeling and chanting.  The police cars and motorcycles blocked the traffic to allow this.  We were directed by police to turn our car around and so we pulled into a neighboring shopping area lot.  

 

We watched as the rally continued in the intersection and cars were diverted.  We pulled onto Alameda just as the rally began to march on Alameda, taking over both lanes of traffic behind us.

 

From the Party of Socialism and Liberation of Denver, who hosted the event earlier in the day:

 

How much money is Aurora PD spending to gas protesters right now? How much money did they spend on overtime pay, on equipment, on bringing in reinforcements from surrounding precincts to patrol our protests today?

 

Meanwhile, APD still has Elijah classified as a “suspect,” allowing them to avoid paying a single penny of restitution to the McClain family. Every cent that APD spends trying to repress us will only make it more clear to the community—and to the entire nation now watching Aurora—how hellbent they are on escaping justice.

 

We will not stop until we get JUSTICE for Elijah McClain and nothing less:

 

1) FIRE all three APD officers (Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema), as well as Lt. Peter Chichuniec and medic Jeremy Cooper of Aurora Fire Dept. who were responsible for administering ketamine to Elijah.

 

2) File murder charges against all three APD officers and the two paramedics who actively participated in Elijah’s murder.

 

3) Provide immediate restitution to the McClain family, reflecting the incredible injustice committed against them.

 

HAPPENING NOW: Justice for Elijah McClain at Aurora PD Headquarters

Posted by Party for Socialism and Liberation – Denver on Saturday, June 27, 2020

 

 

PHOTOS BY KINO ALYSE

PHOTOS BY BRITTNEY BUCKLEY

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