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The killing of Elijah McClain

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Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old unarmed black man who was killed by Aurora Colorado police last August for the crime of causing some anonymous person anxiety because he was wearing a mask:

According to McClain’s family, the 23-year-old had made a quick trip to the convenience store to pick up an iced tea for his brother. His sister later told a local ABC affiliate, Denver7, that McClain was wearing an open-face ski mask because he “had anemia and would sometimes get cold.” And although he was unarmed, simply walking home and, his sister said, listening to music, police say “a struggle ensued.” One officer accused McClain of reaching for his gun, and one put him in a carotid hold, which involves an officer applying pressure to the side of a person’s neck in order to temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain. “Due to the level of physical force applied while restraining the subject and his agitated mental state,” officers then called Aurora First Responders, who “administered life-saving measures,” according to a local NBC affiliate. Paramedics injected McClain with what they said was a “therapeutic” amount of ketamine to sedate him, while officers held him down.

McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, and was taken off life support on August 30. His family said at the time that he was brain dead, and covered in bruises.

Body-cam footage of the arrest does exist, although the ADP did not release it to the public until late November, months after McClain’s death. In the footage, an officer can be heard admitting McClain had done nothing illegal prior to his arrest; another accuses McClain of reaching for one of their guns. McClain, meanwhile, can be heard asking the officers to stop, explaining that they started to arrest him as he was “stopping [his] music to listen.” He gasps that he cannot breathe. He tells them his name, says he has ID but no gun, and pleads that his house is “right there.” He sobs, and vomits, and apologizes: “I wasn’t trying to do that,” he says. “I just can’t breathe correctly.” One of the officers can also be heard threatening to set his dog on McClain if he “keep[s] messing around,” and claiming he exhibited an extreme show of strength when officers tried to pin back his arms.

Very little of the officers’ protocol can be seen, however, because all of their body cams allegedly fell off during the arrest. But if you watch the video from about the 15-minute mark (warning: the footage contains violent and upsetting content), you’ll see someone pick up the body camera and point it toward McClain and one of the officers, before dropping it back into the grass. Around 15:34, one of the officers seems to say, “Leave your camera there.”

McClain seems to have been a both admirable and completely harmless person:

At the time of his death Elijah McClain had been a massage therapist for about four years. He shared an apartment with his cousin close to the site at which he was taken into police custody and consequently died. He had never been arrested or charged with a crime. Friends and family described him as a “spiritual seeker, pacifist, oddball, vegetarian, athlete, and peacemaker who was exceedingly gentle.”[9]

McClain’s mother Sheneen moved her family of six from Denver to Aurora to avoid gang violence, thinking it would be safer in Aurora. She said that Elijah was home schooled and she could see at an early age that he was “intellectually gifted but fiercely independent.” While still a teenager he taught himself to play violin and guitar and during lunch breaks he brought his instruments to animal shelters and played for abandoned animals, believing that music put them at ease. Friends said that his gentleness with animals was expressed with humans as well. One of his clients recalled him as “the sweetest, purest person I have ever met. He was definitely a light in a whole lot of darkness.” An aquaintence said “I don’t even think he would set a mouse trap if there was a rodent problem.”

Just to be clear, it’s really not OK for the police to murder people with rap sheets either, but the claims of the cops who killed him that McClain possessed some sort of super strength because he was “on something,” and this therefore required shooting him up with a massive and ultimately fatal dose of tranquilizer like he was some sort of wild animal, are classic examples of how racist paranoia triggers police misconduct.

After a public outcry in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Gov. Jared Polis has reopened an investigation into McClain’s death (In a completely predictable move, the DA refused to charge the officers involved with anything).

A couple of striking developments in the last few days illustrate just how corrupt the police culture is in this country. On Saturday, dozens of Aurora cops dressed up as storm troopers pepper sprayed and beat up peaceful protestors, who were listening to a violin performance memorializing McClain:

Then this week it was revealed that in October three Aurora cops had visited the makeshift memorial at the site of McClain’s killing, and taken humorous photos of themselves re-enacting the incident. The three were fired today:

The impunity of the police in this country is something that has to be crushed, before there’s even any possibility of reform.

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