On August 24, 2019, in Aurora, CO, a 23-year-old Black man named Elijah McClain was walking home from a convenience store after buying iced tea for his brother. He was wearing a ski mask because he was anemic and easily got cold. He was listening to music and dancing while he walked when someone called 911 on this Black man simply walking home.
The caller stated that he was acting "sketchy," but did not think that he was carrying a weapon and was not sure if he was dangerous.
Three officers arrived at the scene, surrounding Elijah, who had done nothing wrong. They restrained him, placed him in a chokehold, and injected him with ketamine to calm him down. Throughout all this, Elijah was vomiting and saying he could not breathe. Here are his chilling last words:
"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. 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. Oh, I'm sorry I wasn't trying to do that. I just can't breathe correctly."
Elijah went into cardiac arrest and was taken to the hospital. Six days later, he was pronounced brain dead.
Elijah McClain is a victim of police brutality and racism in its deadliest form.
Officers misunderstood his moving of his body on the ground as him not cooperating, but in reality, he could not breathe and wanted to stay alive, so he adjusted his body. Elijah McClain was a massage therapist who went to animal shelters on his lunch breaks to play his violin for the cats.
He was non-violent.
He was unarmed.
He was innocent.
And now he's dead.
What is particularly striking about Elijah's case is that not only had he not done anything wrong, he was also notably a peaceful person. He was a pacifist, a vegetarian, someone who had a big heart for others. He truly did not deserve to die. As Annie Reneau writes on Upworthy,
"Victims of police brutality don't need to be angels. What's wrong is wrong. But when a demonstrably tender and sweet soul like Elijah McClain is killed from a police encounter and no wrongdoing is found, it's long past time to examine the rules that govern the entire system. No one in their right mind can say this young man shouldn't be alive right now, playing violin for lonely kittens on his lunch hour."
The three Aurora Police Department officers were not given criminal charges. But following the George Floyd case and protests, a new petition was created to demand justice. Over 4 million people have signed, and the media took notice. So did the governor of Colorado, Jared Polis.
On June 25, 2020, Governor Polis signed an Executive Order for the Attorney General to investigate and potentially criminally prosecute the officers who killed Elijah McClain.
His case is reopened.
"Elijah McClain should be alive today," stated Governor Polis. "We owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern."
I hope and pray that Elijah and his family will get the justice they deserve. Elijah did not deserve death, and especially did not deserve death at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect us. Elijah was innocent. We must continue to fight for justice for victims of racism and police brutality and continue to fight for Elijah and the hundreds like him.