Amid widespread protests following the viral death of George Floyd, names of other Black men and women who died at the hands of the police are being called to the forefront. One of whom is 23-year-old Elijah McClain, a Colorado man who in 2019, died days after Aurora officers used a carotid hold to restrain him, rendering him unconscious.

Three weeks ago a change.org petition was started demanding “Justice for Elijah McClain.” It now has more than two million signatures and counting, bringing renewed interest to the story of a young man who was walking home from a local convenience store right before Aurora police cut his life short. 

Elijah McClain
In the video capturing the heartbreaking moments leading up to his death, Elijah McClain (pictured) can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” and telling officers “I’m just different.”

The petition is calling on Aurora, Colorado Mayor Mike Coffman, Adams County District Attorney Dave Young, and the Aurora Police Department to conduct a thorough investigation into McClain’s death and take the officers responsible off duty. None of the Aurora officers involved in the nearly year-old case were charged. All have been placed back in the field.

McClain’s tragic story started on August 24, 2019, when, according to court documents, Aurora police received a call about a suspicious man wearing a ski mask and “waving his arms” at the caller. McClain, a massage therapist who suffered with anemia, had been reportedly donning a ski mask while on an errand to a local convenience store to protect his face.  

When officers arrived on the scene, they claim McClain resisted arrest, leading to a struggle between McClain and the responding Aurora officers. During the encounter, police used as a heightened level of physical force, which led to them calling the Aurora Fire Rescue and an ambulance to respond to the scene and administer professional medical assistance. An Aurora Police Department release says that McClain was administered a standard medication, to reduce his anxiety, and as he was being transported to the hospital he went into cardiac arrest. Three days later, McClain was dead.

McClain’s lawyer said that when Elijah was accosted by police, he laid on the ground vomiting and told officers that he could not breathe. An officer responded by telling the young man who appeared to be in distress, “Don’t move again. If you move again, I’m calling in a dog to bite you.” 

Officers involved in McClain’s case were placed on temporary leave before being allowed to resume active duty. Now the city council of Aurora, along with its Mayor, are actively seeking an independent investigator to determine whether or not those officers should, in fact, be charged.   

McClain is remembered by family and friends as an introverted and kind spirit who enjoyed playing the violin for stray cats.

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