On the evening of July 3, thousands of community members in Aurora, Colorado, gathered to demand justice for Elijah McClain and to call on the Aurora Police Department to immediately fire the officers involved in his killing. Protesters also demanded murder charges for the killers.
The action was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, organizers who have been in the fight for justice for Elijah McClain since he was attacked and then died in August of 2019, and who led the organized takeover of Interstate Highway 225 by three thousand people the Saturday before.
The killing of Elijah McClain: community fight back
Elijah McClain’s case has recently garnered national and international attention, 10 months after his death, as the movement against police murder and racism grows around the country and the world.
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 the District Attorney 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.”
Earlier that day, Aurora Police Department announced that three officers were fired, and one resigned, after a related scandal was leaked to the public. An officer reported that photos were circulating within the department depicting officers at Elijah McClain’s memorial at Billings and Evergreen smiling and jokingly holding one another in the carotid choke hold that had been used to torture McClain. One of the officers who killed McClain, Jason Rosenblatt, had received the photos and replied, “HaHa.” He was fired for this response, but the other two cops involved in Elijah’s killing, Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard, remain on the force.
Protestors demand justice, surround police station
Marching from Billings and Evergreen, the site where Elijah McClain was killed by Aurora cops and paramedics on August 23, 2019, march organizers led protesters on a surprise turn to descend upon the nearby APD District 1 building, surrounding the facility and taking Aurora police completely off guard.
For the next eight hours, the massive crowd continued to peacefully occupy the perimeter around the station, declaring that no one would enter or exit the building until APD met the community’s demand to fire the murderous cops who killed Elijah McClain.
In an open letter to Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson, PSL called out the APD’s pattern of tyrannical and unconstitutional use of force. On the previous Saturday, Aurora Police made national headlines when they repressed a peaceful violin vigil for Elijah McClain with tear gas, pepper spray, and batons.
Demanding that Wilson immediately fire the killers on her force, the letter pointed out, “If you respond to our peaceful occupation with violence just like you did to the vigil last Saturday, you are choosing to injure protesters and deny their constitutional rights just so you can keep literal murderers on your payroll.”
Throughout the night, the mobilization remained joyful and militant. A spontaneous dance party broke out, in remembrance of Elijah McClain who was dancing to music during his final walk home when a neighbor called the cops on him for looking “suspicious.”
Occupiers shared the event with their networks on social media using the hashtag #APDoccupation, calling on friends and supporters to join the mobilization and bring supplies like food, water, and blankets.
After several hours, APD Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson reached out and asked to speak directly to the protest organizers. Lillian House of the Party for Socialism and Liberation called Wilson on the phone and amplified their conversation over the loud speaker for the entire crowd to hear.
Unsurprisingly, Interim Chief Wilson made excuses for why she could not fire the officers. To enormous cheers from the crowd, Lillian responded: “We are not buying that. Our demands are not changing. Woodyard and Roedema, tonight. Fire them.”
Hundreds of protesters decided to stick out the occupation through the night.
Finally, Interim Police Chief Wilson and APD made clear how they were going to respond to the community’s simple demand for justice: with overwhelming force.
Hundreds of heavily armed riot police descended on the occupation at about 4 a.m. and dispersed the crowd. Their response made it clear that the Aurora Police Department would rather descend on a peaceful demonstration with military-grade vehicles and weapons than fire killer cops in their department. Before police opened fire, organizers decided to withdraw the crowd, recognizing that allowing the cops to brutalize people would not change the chief’s decision for that night. Some protesters decided to stay and go head to head with the police.
This is only one step in the struggle for justice for Elijah McClain. But the entire world is seeing the brutality of the police in Aurora and around the country, and thousands are in the streets for justice. The landscape is changing in Aurora, where that exceptionally racist and violent police force is now facing huge push-back from the community. The fight-back continues!