TW: Racism, police killing, violence

Born on February 25, 1996 in Aurora, Colorado, Elijah McClain was a massage therapist who was described by many of those who knew him to have an immense care and love in playing instruments such as the guitar and violin. Family members of his have said that McClain always demonstrated great intellectual curiosity and self-taught himself how to play the guitar and violin. He used his violin skills during his lunch breaks to comfort the stray cats and dogs that were under stressful circumstances at the animal shelters that they were staying at, as he believed that music would be a way to ease their anxiety. McClain was always perceived by those around him as a gentle, introverted, and peaceful individual who never had any malicious intentions towards anyone. He was depicted to have a child-like spirit and was always considerate and understanding to everyone he came across.

On August 24, 2019, McClain was murdered by three police officers: Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema. In a surveillance video taken at a local convenience store, it was seen that at around 10:00 pm on that Saturday, McClain stopped by to purchase an iced tea for his brother while wearing a ski mask. Family members of McClain have explained that the reason behind him wearing the mask was due to how he had anemia, a condition that subjected him to experiencing coldness more easily. The mask’s purpose was to keep him warm. A few minutes following his arrival at the convenience store, an individual believed that McClain appeared “sketchy” and later decided to dial 911. The caller informed the operator at the other end of the line that McClain had no weapons in his possession, and no one was being harmed but still suspected that McClain was “dangerous”. Nevertheless, officers came down to see what inclined the caller to seek 911. Minutes later, they stopped McClain when he was on his way back home and then proceeded to tackle McClain to the ground and put him in a chokehold after McClain stated several times that he reached for his pockets to stop the music that he was listening to and explained that he had ownership of an ID and not a gun. Police continued to ignore protocols, and McClain was eventually injected with ketamine by paramedics while officers restrained him. After enduring cardiac arrest, McClain died days later with brain damage. 

The Aurora Police department had refused to release the body-cam footage that was taken of the arrest until months later in November. It was audible from the footage released that an officer at the scene stated that McClain didn’t commit anything illegal before the arrest was implemented. Reportedly, all of the officers’ body cameras fell off when restraining McClain, however, it can be heard at one point in the footage that one of the officers says “Leave your camera there.”

Following McClain’s fatal encounter with the officers, an autopsy was performed by the Adams County Coroner, and they were unable to draw a conclusion of what resulted in McClain’s death. His death was later proclaimed as “undetermined”. Consequently, the officers were never charged and would be allowed to return to their jobs. On July 3, 2020, the interim chief of the Aurora Police department Vanessa Wilson publicly announced that she fired one of the officers involved in McClain’s death and two others who were seen in a resurfaced photo from October mocking McClain’s death at his memorial.

From pressure across the nation, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reopened McClain’s case on July 28, 2020 to investigate the correlation that the 500 milligrams of ketamine had with McClain’s death. McClain’s family is also moving forward with a civil rights lawsuit against Aurora, Colorado, as they state the “unconstitutional conduct on the night of August 24, 2019, is part of a larger custom, policy, and practice of racism and brutality, as reflected by its conduct both before and after its murder of Elijah McClain, a young Black man.” 

Elijah McClain’s name has had a significant mark on the Black Lives Matter movement, and many activists of the movement have since acknowledged his case to protest against the unjust murders that have occurred against black civilians across the globe from police killings.

By Joylyn Gong

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