2020 has been a lesson in the profound power of the people in struggle.
In August 2019, when the Aurora Police Department in Colorado killed Elijah McClain, they truly thought they could get away with it with no consequences. Aurora District Attorney Dave Young summarily declined to file any charges against the killer cops. APD didn’t even take them off the job. The city aided in blocking the McClain family from receiving any remittances. All of this despite the torture and killing of Elijah McClain at the hands of their own officers that was captured on camera.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation was part of a small core that fought with the McClain family for justice from day one, and this laid the groundwork for the movement that took shape this summer. But the reality is that without a mass movement, APD would have gotten away with it. Now, APD has had to learn that they don’t get to kill members of our community without consequence.
On June 27, more than 5,000 people convened outside of the Aurora Police Department Headquarters, then in an incredible demonstration of protest, marched peacefully onto the nearby I-225 highway, shutting down traffic in both directions. This was the largest protest in Aurora history.
That evening, violinists from around the world gathered to perform a violin vigil in Elijah’s memory. As the violin vigil played, Aurora Police declared the gathering unlawful and descended on the crowd in riot gear. Observers recording the musicians captured footage of police unloading pepper spray and tear gas canisters and officers beating protesters with batons as demonstrators locked arms in a circle around the musicians who played on. The incident went viral and spurred violin vigils for Elijah McClain around the world.
Six days later, over a thousand marched to the APD District 1 Station, a mile from the site of Elijah’s death, where they stayed into the early hours of the next morning when Aurora Police sent in scores of heavily armed riot cops and armored vehicles to violently repress the protest.
Mass protests continued throughout the summer, continuing to demand justice for Elijah McClain. On July 12, the PSL led a massive car caravan of some 400 cars in a mobile protest through Aurora, drawing expressions of support from hundreds of cars and people in their yards and on porches. On July 25, the PSL led another mass protest, which again marched onto the highway where they were attacked by a rightwing vigilante who attempted to drive his Jeep at full speed through the crowd. He narrowly failed to plow through the crowd of hundreds, thanks to the heroic act of a man who intercepted and slowed the Jeep with his truck.
Even after the terrifying incident, protests continued. On Aug. 30, some 1,500 people, both in their cars and on foot, marched nearly five miles from Aurora to Denver against the racist police brutality of both cities’ police departments.
This mass, peaceful protest movement brought unprecedented attention to the criminal conduct of the Aurora Police Department and the Aurora officials that protect them. Aurora Fraternal Order of Police president Marc Sears reported that the protests caused a serious crisis of morale within the department; an unprecedented number of officers were resigning or retiring.
On Sept. 17, multiple police agencies arrested and imprisoned several of the leaders of this movement that has challenged their impunity. They illegally held Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero in jail for eight days under 23+ hour lockdown in dangerous and degrading conditions. Aurora DAs Dave Young and George Brauchler charged the arrested organizers with extreme felonies and misdemeanors that could carry decades in prison, all for legal, peaceful protest activity. They did this to send a wave of terror through the movement, to paralyze and demobilize all the people who dared to protest for their community. But it hasn’t worked. The arrested leaders have not been scared into silence, and neither has the movement! On Nov. 21, hundreds of people marched at the state capitol denouncing the governor’s move to water down the state investigation into Elijah McClain’s death. Within days, Governor Polis reversed these changes to the investigation.
On Dec. 8, over 100 people flooded the Aurora Civil Service Commission meeting to speak out against reinstating the cops that mocked Elijah’s death and to demand the firing and charging of all involved in Elijah’s death. The commission, as well as APD Chief Wilson and Aurora Fraternal Order of Police Chief Marc Sears, were forced to hear hours of input from the public.
On Jan. 21, as Jason Rosenblatt begins his hearing before the Civil Service Commission to appeal his termination — fired only after evidence was leaked of him mocking Elijah’ McClain’s death — the PSL will lead a car caravan protest letting Aurorans know that their city is considering rehiring this killer and demanding he not be reinstated.
Closing out 2020, Aurora now knows that the people are a real force to contend with, that their police cannot kill without consequence. The movement enters 2021 resolute, ready to fight as long as it takes to get justice. This year, we want to see Randy Roedema, Nathan Woodyard, and Jason Rosenblatt behind bars and we want all charges against the peaceful protest leaders dropped!