Militant Journalism

Colorado governor waters down Elijah McClain investigation, protesters continue to demand justice

On November 21, hundreds marched to demand that the state Attorney General’s investigation seek an indictment for murder in the killing of Elijah McClain. This march specifically targeted AG Phil Weiser, the head of a state investigation launched by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in June. 

Organizers worry investigation outcome could mirror Breonna Taylor’s case

It was only in the context of mass, nationwide protests against police violence that the supposedly “progressive” Polis launched an investigation into Elijah McClain’s death last June. But with masses of people out of the streets, and multiple protest leaders facing trumped-up charges for leading the justice movement, he quietly adjusted the wording on his executive order that launched the state investigation, opening more avenues for investigating attorney general Weiser to let the killer cops off with a slap on the wrist.

The pointed “expansion” of the AG investigation could allow for Wieser to indict Randy Rodema, Jason Rosenblatt, and Nathan Woodyard on charges beyond the torture and killing of  Elijah McClain. It could also allow him to charge the other officers that stood by while the three slowly killed McClain, or to bring charges against the paramedics who shot McClain with a lethal dose of ketamine. However, those familiar with cases of police brutality know just how rare it is for even overt, videotaped killings by police to end in any real charges for the officers involved. 

Party for Socialism and Liberation organizer Jenn Beverly said, “The changes made by Polis loosen the scope of the investigation, allowing the investigator Attorney General Phil Weiser to look for offenses, not just criminal activity related to Elijah’s death. This opens up the possibility for Weiser to come back with watered down charges against those killers, as occurred in the case of Breonna Taylor that we all know about and watched just weeks ago.”

Indeed, the police officer that killed Breonna Taylor was only charged with “wanton endangerment” of her neighbor for firing his guns indiscriminately into her apartment. The jury that brought that verdict said that they weren’t even given the option to indict the cop on homicide charges. 

The long fight for justice for Elijah McClain

Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old Black massage therapist from Aurora, Colorado, who was stopped by police on August 24, 2019 for the “crime” of looking suspicious. He was wearing a ski mask, as he routinely did to stay warm despite his anemia, and was dancing to music as he walked. Aurora police beat him to the ground, put him into a carotid chokehold, held a knee to his back, and had paramedics inject him with a massive dose of ketamine to subdue him. He suffered a heart attack and brain damage and died in the hospital three days later. The coroner’s report left the cause of death as “undetermined” and District Attorney Dave Young declined to press any charges. To this day, his family has been denied any form of restitution from the city because Elijah McClain had been classified as a “suspect.”

As the movement for Black lives swelled last summer, PSL organized massive protests for Elijah McClain. Protesters on July 3 marched onto I-225 and held the freeway with 3,000 people. On August 23, protesters peacefully marched to the APD district 1 building, demonstrating for over eight hours before police violently repressed them. In an open letter to Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson, PSL demanded that Wilson immediately fire the remaining killers on her force, Nathan Woodyard and Randy Roedema (Jason Rosenblatt had already been fired for a different crime). 

However, protests have slowed the past several weeks, and Polis took this moment to adjust the wording of the investigation. 

AG Weiser, Gov Polis, and Aurora DAs charge protesters, not killer cops

In addition to waiting for public attention to move away from the movement for Elijah McClain, Polis loosened the scope of the investigation just as lead organizers of the PSL are facing severe legal repression for leading the justice movement for Elijah McClain. Multiple Denver/Aurora area police departments arrested Lillian House, Joel Northam and Eliza Lucero on September 17 and held them in jail without bringing them before a judge for over a week. They are now facing the potential of decades in prison on completely fake charges. 

Aurora DAs Dave Young, from the district in which McClain was killed, and George Brauchler brought these false charges. But are Polis and Weiser any better, if they too bring no meaningful charges against these killer cops? Both Weiser and Polis ran as “progressives” and supporters of the movement for Black lives. Where is their statement of solidarity with the arrested organizers? 

These false charges are clearly meant to crush future organizing against racist policing. But the movement continues despite this attack.

Protesters facing charges say, “We still want justice for Elijah McClain!” 

Joel Northam, in front of Attorney General Weiser’s office, said, “They wanted to send a message to you and they wanted to send a message to the movement. The message was: you are not allowed to address our unchecked racist gangsterism, or this is what’s going to happen to you. But y’all didn’t get the message, and I couldn’t be more proud.

“But I would like to send a message right back, I think we all would, and that message is: We still want justice for Elijah McClain!”

Hundreds gathered and marched, taking to the streets to march first to the Attorney General’s office and then to the jail, the same jail in which the three PSL organizers were held for over a week just two months ago for organizing these protests. 

In a speech in front of the jail, Eliza Lucero said, “Something that we became acutely aware of while we were inside, is that the majority of people that are being kept in there have committed no crimes except for the crime of being poor. These people are locked up in there right now; meanwhile the cops who murder and brutalize innocent members of our community are walking free on our streets.

“Justice means emptying these jails of people in our communities who committed no real crimes, and instead filling these cells with the killer cops that stand in direct opposition to our wellbeing!”

Lillian House put it beautifully when she said, “Why do you think that Jared Polis opened his investigation on June 25?  That was 10 months after Elijah had been killed, that was eight months after the DA had decided he wasn’t going to file any charges. June 25 was at the height of our protests. Right? They are scared of the power of the people. That is the only thing that moves them.”

The movement’s demands are clear, “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail; the whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

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