AURORA, Colo. — People around the state and around the country now know the name Elijah McClain. They know the way he died, but few know more about the type of person that he was.
On Saturday, a vigil in Aurora aimed to celebrate the life McClain lived before the August 2019 struggle with Aurora Police that led to his death.
More than 10 months after he died and weeks after protests began demanding justice for McClain, the vigil on Saturday afternoon in Aurora started with a different goal.
"He’s not just a victim. He was a person. He mattered. His life mattered," said Taza Brooks, an organizer with the We Shall Overcome group. "Things like this humanize him. He was just like us. He could’ve been you."
We Shall Overcome organized a celebration of Elijah McClain’s life. Candles and flowers spelled out the name of the 23-year-old man whose death has gone viral, but whose life is less known.
The group invited anyone attending to bring white flowers, candles and other artwork or memorabilia to add to the vigil.
"We focus on his death a lot. He was more than just a man who was killed at the hands of APD," said Ebony Grant-West, one of the event organizers. "We don’t want our people to only be remembered as someone who was shot by the cops. We don’t want that. We want you to remember that they had families who loved them. They were brothers, they were sisters."
The group said the the event is different from other protests. Instead, they said the goal was to provide Elijah McClain's mother with a peaceful outpouring of love from the community.
Organizers say while Saturday was a day to celebrate McClain, tomorrow they’ll be back out protesting demanding justice for the way he died. There’s a protest already planned for Sunday.
McClain died on Aug. 27, 2019 – five days after he went into cardiac arrest following a confrontation with Aurora Police Department (APD) officers. He was detained after a report of a “suspicious person” in the area. McClain’s family said he had been walking to the store to get iced tea, and was wearing a ski mask because he was anemic.
Officers used a carotid hold on McClain and first responders later gave him ketamine, a sedative. He went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. A coroner’s report found his cause of death inconclusive, and the 17th District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against the officers involved.
Governor Jared Polis (D-Colorado) signed an executive order directing Colorado's attorney general to investigate the case. And the FBI and Department of Justice announced last week they were looking at potentially starting a federal civil rights investigation.
The city of Aurora also said it will hire a team to complete an independent investigation into the death of McClain.
The Aurora Police Department (APD) fired two of the three officers who took photographs depicting a choke hold in front of the memorial for McClain.
A third officer was fired for his response to the photos that he received in a text message, and another officer involved resigned before his punishment could be handed down.
Three of the fired police officers are appealing in an effort to get their jobs back.
Interest in the investigation into McClain's death has garnered national attention following the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and ensuing nationwide protests, which brought attention to police brutality and systemic racism.
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