Yesterday a few friends and I participated in a protest demanding justice for Elijah McClain, a young black man who died last year in police custody in Aurora, Colorado. The march shut down the highway in both directions. It was incredible. Some altercations that happened between police officers and protestors and bystanders were intense…
Before I continue though, you might already be aware of the case of Elijah McClain, as it has recently made national news. But if not, here is a summary:
Elijah McClain was walking home from a convenience store after picking up iced tea for his brother. He had anemia and therefore would get cold easily. So he sometimes wore a ski mask around his face to keep warm. Someone called in about a suspicious person but specifically mentioned he did not seem dangerous. Police stopped him. He said he was just going home, that he was an introvert and to please respect his boundaries.
As The Cut reports, “In the 15 minutes that followed, the officers tackled McClain to the ground, put him in a carotid hold, and called first responders, who injected him with ketamine. He had a heart attack on the way to the hospital, and died days later, after he was declared brain dead…McClain’s family maintains that law enforcement’s use of excessive force led to his death. The officers, however, were subsequently cleared of wrongdoing, apparently on the basis of questionable body-camera footage and an allegedly inconclusive autopsy.”
Understandably, Coloradans are angry upon hearing about yet another wrongful death coming to light, this one in particular, in our state. So people took to the streets (and highways) yesterday to protest.
My friends and I were a bit late to the march and were hoping to meet up with marchers wherever we could. Driving over a bridge over the highway, we looked to our left and were amazed to see a massive crowd overtaking both directions of the 9 or 10 lanes of highway. The sight brought goosebumps to my skin and a sense of awe at the power of the people.
So we parked our car, jumped a fence and hopped up and over a wall to get onto an onramp to join the masses on the highway.
We were at the far back of the pack walking across empty stretches of highway when cars started to approach. We thought, “Wow. Police are letting cars back on the highway but there is still a massive amount of people not off it yet.” Whoever in the police department made the call to allow cars again did so preemptively. Because most people were still just barely making their way off the off ramp of the exit. So a group of protesters linked hands to stop the cars from driving until people were off the highway.
A police car drove speedily onto the scene, coming within inches of rear ending the car in front of him and flung his car door open. “Get out of the road!” He shouted and he bounded towards us, motioning the cars onward. He was intense. He sped towards us and someone shouted “Back up! He’s going to start arresting people!” We started backing up and moving our wall backwards but the police officer continued furiously, motioning the cars onward. Someone shouted at the officer, “Just wait! There are still a lot of people on the highway and off ramp!” A woman in a wheelchair moved forward, recording the scene on her smartphone and the police officer started to back up and we backed up as well.
The whole confrontation could have been avoided if the police officers had just waited another twenty minutes or so for everyone to be off the highway and offramp.
But another two altercations that were about to ensue came very close to hurting people.
As we moved at the tail end of the march along a commercial street in Aurora, a car came whipping around and swerved to try to hit a protestor! The people jumped out of the way and threw water bottles at the car, shouting. The back windshield of the vehicle had cardboard in place of glass which made me wonder if this particular car had already tried to do something of the sort recently.
But the marchers marched on, chanting call and answer chants like, “Say his name!-Elijah McClain!” And “No Justice- No Peace! No racist- Police!”
People are calling for justice. I understand police have a hard job and there potentially is a necessity to have a career dedicated to protecting the people, but what police officers did on the night they reprimanded Elijah McClain and so many others, is not protecting the people. The officers in this case made a mistake. They reprimanded a young, innocent kid for no reason, but continued to further do damage until they did such damage the young man died in police custody. That is just wrong. Just like in the death of Breonna Taylor, which, by the way, the officers responsible for killing her are still at large.
The officers who killed Breonna stormed her apartment, (as the NYTimes reports, they did not make their presence as police officers known thanks to the no-knock warrant) and shot Breonna 8 times in her own home in the middle of the night during a search raid that should not have taken place anyway, because the person they were after was already in custody! Are you kidding me?! So the officers killed a woman in her own home, and no one is facing charges?! It’s infuriating and wrong. Just like it is wrong that Elijah McClain was forced to die after trying to get his brother some iced tea at a convenience store.
So the marchers continued on towards the Municipal Center to rally in front of the police headquarters.
We were marching at the back of the pack, the sun beating down on us and the hot pavement, so people rode on bicycles strolling by offering free bottled water to protestors and snacks for anyone running low on energy. Everywhere you looked, you could see protestors looking out for one another, and people striking up conversations with strangers. One woman walking along with her child in a stroller was chatting with other protestors, saying, “Thank you all for being here.” It truly was a beautiful community of people fighting for what is right. And having to face antagonizations from police and threats of cars ramming protestors was crazy.
So as we approached a stoplight, a car was in the middle of people walking along in the march. Suddenly, we saw a flurry of movement and heard a loud “thunk” and the sound of smashed glass. It looked like the car had rammed some people! My friend sped to the scene and I approached cautiously. The windshield had a massive
spiraling break on it and people were yelling at the person in the car, “You just hit someone!” The crowd surrounded the car, but one protest organizer yelled, “Let’s move aside and let her out of here!” So the protesters made a clear pathway for her to drive away from protestors, despite she had just bumped someone with her car, seemingly on purpose. But the woman in the car didn’t budge! Why wasn’t she slowly driving away! Instead, she just continued to shout at all of us as we were all motioning her onward, saying to her, “Just go!”
The same lovely black woman and her child in the stroller came to the scene. She said to the woman in the car “Just go lady! You have a clear path! Go!” But then she pulled the stroller backwards and furthered herself and her kid from the scene, pointing at the woman in the car, stating- “She’s got a gun! Everyone back up, she’s got a gun!” The crowd stepped even further away from the car, but still the woman in the car with the gun would not leave! Until finally, with more yelling, the car jolted fast and whipped around for a U-turn, almost hitting a black man protestor, before speeding away. It was one of the most intense things I have ever seen. Thankfully, someone got her license plate number.
We arrived at the Aurora Municipal Center for the rally to hear speeches and to demand better action from DA Dave Young. (Luckily, as NPR reports, Gov Jared Polis has appointed a Special Prosecutor to reopen probe into Elijah’s death.) The crowd gathered and the energy was calm until protestors started consolidating near the corner where the police were stationed nearby. The crowd started shouting “We don’t see no riot here, why are you in riot gear!” The energy began ramping up.
I do think some protestors wanted to rial things up, which would have been counterintuitive. Thankfully, one of the black women organizers pleaded with the crowd through a megaphone to instead move towards the speeches. After several attempts to have her voice heard, it worked, and the protestors moved away from the contentious scene and instead towards the speeches taking place nearby. Whew. I could feel the energy relax a bit. This woman had successfully redirected the crowd away from potential violence and instead towards the productive, peaceful rally. I think black women are going to save this world.
So- We had marched and listened to speeches and later left the rally with thoughts of the day heavy on our minds; a combination of feeling purposeful, empowered and exhausted. It is high time police violence ends. These past many weeks have been a major time of reflection, education and understanding for me, as I further navigate my own white privilege and do what I can to be an ally and advocate of anti-racism. I have long been aware of these types of issues, but I am all the more aware now and am thankful for the BLM movement for opening eyes like mine. This is a powerful movement and an important time to make positive steps for a better society, one which works better and equally for all.
The question is, how do we come together and enlighten people, like those who use their cars as weapons, or refuse to see the purpose behind protests such as these? How can we affectively come together as a nation, and heal and rebuild to dismantle systems of oppression to create a better society? Some general, big idea solutions- 1.) Education. 2.) Political and legislative policy changes. 3.) More women and men of color representation in politics and positions of power 4.) Investing in community resources instead of heavily into the police 5.) MORE ideas that I’m still exploring.
I hope my experience of the protest yesterday enlightened you in some way. I wanted to share what it was like on the ground and to bring light to the amazing things BLM protestors are doing, despite the odds.
Stay safe, be well, and affect positive change in whatever ways you can.