On August 24, 2019, Aurora, Colorado police brutally murdered 23-year-old massage therapist and musician Elijah McClain. He had been dancing to music while walking home from the convenience store. He was wearing a ski mask, as he frequently did because he suffered from a chronic illness causing poor blood circulation, making it difficult to keep warm. Someone called 9-1-1 to report a person who looked suspicious, explicitly stating to the operator that he did not appear dangerous. Three Aurora Police Department officers approached Elijah, grabbed him and forced him onto the ground using a now-banned carotid chokehold. They knelt on Elijah’s handcuffed body while he cried, vomited, and begged for his life, pleading “I can’t breathe.” Paramedics assisting the officers administered a dose of ketamine large enough to sedate a man twice Elijah’s size. He went into cardiac arrest and died in the hospital six days later.
In the months following Elijah’s death, Aurora officials and the Aurora Police Department did nothing. Adams County District Attorney Dave Young declined to file any charges against Elijah’s killers; they weren’t even taken off the job.
On June 27 2020, the Party for Socialism and Liberation called a march in Aurora demanding justice for Elijah McClain. 5,000 people marched peacefully onto the nearby I-225 highway, shutting down traffic in both directions. This protest was the largest in Aurora history. The protest marched down the highway then marched back to the police headquarters, where violinists from around the world gathered to perform a violin vigil in Elijah’s memory, himself a violinist. As the violins played, Aurora Police declared the gathering unlawful and descended on the crowd in riot gear. Observers recording the violinists 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 around the world. Huge peaceful protests swept Aurora on June 27, July 3, and July 12. On July 25, protesters once again marched onto the highway. On August 30, some 1500 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.
Under the pressure of these massive peaceful protests demanding accountability, the city of Aurora commissioned an independent investigation and on July 20, produced a report that concluded that the Aurora Police’s entire encounter with Elijah McClain which ended in his death was unjustified.
But what is missing in most media coverage is that the activists who organized these protests are now facing severe retaliation—dozens of serious criminal charges for leading these peaceful protests which brought international attention to Elijah McClain’s case. On September 17, without warning, 4 organizers of the peaceful protest movement in Aurora were arrested at their homes, in their cars, while jogging in a park. Police arrived at one organizer’s house with a SWAT team and a tank, dragging him out in front of his neighbors. They were then taken to jail, where three of them—Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero—were held for eight days in degrading conditions in COVID-ridden jails before they were finally allowed a bond hearing. The fourth defendant, Terrance Roberts managed to get out on bail. They are now battling dozens of false charges, including the ludicrous charge of attempted kidnapping for holding a protest outside of an Aurora police station. These charges, all related to the peaceful protests which called attention to the police murder of Elijah McClain, could put them behind bars for as many as 48 years. This could happen to any of us who go to demonstrations and they need help.
There was an arraignment on March 1 and a preliminary hearing on March 9th. For more updates and how to help support these activists, www.denverdefense.org/