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Coloradans demand justice for Elijah McClain

By staff

Colorado protest demands justice for Elijah McClain.

Aurora, CO – Denver Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) joined thousands in Aurora on June 27 to demand justice for Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man murdered by police in August of 2019. In the wake of weeks of protests for George Floyd, as well as numerous call-ins, intense social media pressure, and petitions involving millions of signatures, McClain’s case was reopened by Colorado Governor Jared Polis and his story has gone viral, garnering national attention.

The three officers who killed McClain had come in response to a call of a ‘suspicious person,’ who, it was made clear on the call, was unarmed and not a danger to the caller or anyone else. When officers arrived, McClain was slammed against a wall and put in a carotid chokehold, “a tactic,” Denver-based attorney Mari Newman notes, “that has been outlawed in departments across Colorado and the U.S.” McClain was brutalized by this carotid chokehold not once, but twice. Newman continues, noting that “they used other forms of force against him, even while he was restrained, even after his hands were cuffed behind his back. Even as he was lying on the ground, fully restrained, they continued to use force against him – so much force that he was lying on the ground vomiting.”

The cops even threatened to call in a dog to bite the innocent and handcuffed McClain as he heaved, trying hard to regain his breath. It is notable that the carotid chokehold was the same tactic that killed Eric Garner in 2014, as well as two other Colorado men in the past three years. The officers knew what they were doing; they knew that they were murdering McClain.

These officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema — were placed on administrative leave for about three months after McClain's death. All three were cleared of wrongdoing by the Aurora Police Department in February of this year. Outrage from McClain’s family and supporters did not seem to bother Governor Jared Polis until recently, proving that the widespread and ongoing Floyd protests are doing their job; these protests are showing career politicians and the ruling class that the people of the world will not sit idly by as racist police murder with impunity. Governor Polis was forced to act; he only moved to reopen the investigation because he had no choice in the matter anymore – the people had chosen for him.

McClain’s story is familiar for members of SDS. “We joined the struggle for justice for Elijah in the weeks after his murder, before the body cam footage was released and before any of the officers were named,” SDS member Lyzzi Hahn says, “and our demands remain the same.” Those demands were encapsulated in a pamphlet authored by SDS from last October that calls for the three police officers involved to be identified, fired from the department, and jailed for murder; for the bystanding officers who did nothing to prevent the violence, thus encouraging and enabling the murder, to be identified and fired from the department; and for the organization of a local Civilian Police Accountability Commission (CPAC) to prevent killer cops from getting away with future murders. Hahn continues, “The officers have been named and this one particular case reopened, but until we have community control of the police, we will continue to see police injustice in the U.S. They need to have consequences for their actions.”

Occasional justice may be seen in specific cases, and in those only through protracted struggle, but only with community control of the police can those injustices be properly and regularly punished. It now remains on the people to keep the pressure on in the McClain case and for the countless people who have experienced similar tragic circumstances around the country. With the public eye focused so closely on this investigation, there remains a real chance that there will finally be justice for Elijah McClain.

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