Politics

Here’s Why Elijah McClain Is The Latest Focus Of The Black Lives Matter Protests

"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?"

elijah mcclain black lives matter

Elijah McClain was 23-years-old when he was stopped by police while walking home from the convenience store. It was only meant to be a quick trip to pick up some iced tea for his brother, but he never made it home.

Instead, he found himself pinned down by three police officers who told him he looked “suspicious”. He was put in a chokehold, lost consciousness, and died three days later.

Elijah’s last words — where he apologises to police, begs for air, and finally tells police he loves them — have since gone viral.

His case is now being championed by Black Lives Matter protesters, who have re-focused their efforts on bringing justice to other victims of police brutality since the death of George Floyd.

Yesterday a peaceful vigil for McClain was broken up by police in full riot gear, who pepper sprayed people who had gathered to watch violinists play in honour of the young musician.

Meanwhile more than one million people have signed a petition calling for a new investigation into McClain’s death, and for the three police officers who detained him to be taken off duty.

Here’s what you need to know about Elijah McClain.

“I Can’t Breathe”: Elijah McClain’s Last Words

In August last year Elijah was walking home from a convenience store in Aurora, Colorado when he was stopped by police, immediately restrained (despite committing no crime), and placed in a chokehold.

Three days later he died in hospital, after being pronounced brain dead.

His last moments were not caught on police body cameras — allegedly, the cameras from all three officers at the scene fell off during the arrest.

But they still managed to record his last words, which have since gone viral.

“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain,” he said as police pinned him to the ground.

“That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert, I’m different. 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 so sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

You can then hear McClain vomit, and then apologise again to the police.

“Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.”

Why Did Police Stop Elijah McClain?

McClain was walking home when someone called police about a man acting “sketchy,” wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. He was listening to music at the time, and his family have theorised that he was dancing.

His sister later told Denver7 news channel that McClain often wore an open-face ski mask because he had anaemia, a blood condition that made him feel cold. He also had chronic asthma, and apparently suffered some social anxiety.

Body cam footage shows McClain walking down the street around 10.30pm when a police officer ordered him to stop because he was being “suspicious”. He had left the house to pick up iced tea for his brother.

Despite committing no crime, officers immediately moved to restrain him. The three officers involved have been named as Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema.

“I am an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking. Leave me alone,” McClain told them.

“Let go of me. Let me go … stop, stop, I’m going home. Leave me alone. You guys started to arrest me and I was stopping my music to listen. Now let go of me.”

As police try to handcuff him he appears to panic and try to get out of their grip, and police threaten to taser him.

He’s forced to the ground and soon after begins gasping for air, telling them, “I can’t breathe, please stop”.

That’s because McClain had been placed in a chokehold — also known as a carotid hold, which has since been banned.

The hold restricts blood to the brain to send someone unconscious. In the body cam footage an officer said they “put him out” twice, “at least once successfully”.

One officer claims McClain tried to reach for one of their guns. Body cam footage doesn’t show this because all their cameras had allegedly fallen off.

Midway through the arrest, around the 15 minute mark in the released video, one officer picked the camera up. Another tells him “leave your camera there”, so he drops it back on the grass.

As more police arrive an officer said McClain was “definitely on something”, that he had “incredible, crazy strength” and that at one point three officers had been on top of him. The autopsy reports McClain was around 170cm tall and weighed 63kg.

After using a carotid hold on McClain police called paramedics, who injected him with a “therapeutic” amount of ketamine.

He went into cardiac arrest on the way to hospital, but died three days later after being pronounced brain dead.

What Happened With The Investigation?

An autopsy report from November ruled his cause of death as “undetermined”, and said it could have been homicide related to the carotid hold, an accidental drug reaction, or natural causes.

It also noted McClain was “violently struggling” with officers.

“Intense physical exertion and a narrow left coronary artery contributed to death,” it read.

“It is unclear if the officers’ actions contributed as well.”

In response Mari Newman, the lawyer representing the McClain family, told Denver7, “Whatever the report says, it’s clear that if the police had not attacked Elijah McClain, he would be alive today”.

“They immediately went hands on and tackled him,” she said.

“And of course the fact that all three of their body cameras fell off is something that we should all be pretty suspicious about. It makes it awfully easy for them to say whatever they want, but what we know is that they attacked him for no reason whatsoever. It was excessive force and it led to his death.”

The three officers were placed on administrative leave immediately after the incident, but in November District Attorney Dave Young cleared them of any wrongdoing.

As reported in The Sentinel, he said they did not have indisputable evidence that police used “unjustified” force, and there was “no reasonable likelihood” they’d be able to prove police committed a crime.

Protesters Shift Focus

This month the Colorado Governor announced they will reexamine the McClain case.

The officers involved were also reassigned to administrative duties.

Faith Goodrich, spokeswoman for the Aurora Police Department, said the officers’ safety was the primary reason for the move, after a number of complaints and threats.

It comes after a number of protests by Black Lives Matter activists, who are now fighting for justice for victims of police brutality. It also follows similar rallies for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Yesterday a vigil was held in Aurora’s City Center Park, with people gathering to watch violinists play in memory of the young musician.

However, video shows riot police moving in with pepper spray and batons to disperse the peaceful protesters. Aurora PD have denied they used tear gas.

Who Was Elijah McClain?

Since his death, one photo of Elijah has gone viral. It shows him playing the violin for abandoned cats at an animal shelter, which he believed helped soothe them.

The animal lover taught himself to play violin and the guitar. He was also a massage therapist, and had plans to go to college.

He’s being remembered as a sweet, gentle person. Family and friends told the local paper he was “a spiritual seeker, pacifist, oddball, vegetarian, athlete, and peacemaker who was exceedingly gentle”.

But even if he hadn’t been any of those things, Elijah McClain was still a person. He was someone who did not deserve to die for walking down the street.

While hearing of Elijah’s gentle nature makes the situation even more heartbreaking, his death wouldn’t be any less tragic if he didn’t play the violin for kittens.

It’s still tragic when someone has a criminal history, or has a concealed weapon, or mental health issues, or a drug problem, or any number of things that has seen people excuse police brutality in the past.