The death of a 23-year-old in Colorado is being revisited after his encounter with the police was plagued by the familiar cry of “I can’t breathe.”
Millions of people have called for Colorado officials to reopen the investigation into the death of Elijah McClain back in August 2019 after he was stopped by Aurora cops who used a carotid hold on him, more commonly known as the chokehold. A Change.org petition calls on Adams County District Attorney Dave Young, Mayor Mike Coffman and the Aurora Police Department to carry out a “more in-depth investigation” and remove the officers involved from the force.
According to the The Gazette, McClain was on his way home from a gas station where he bought four cans of Brisk tea on August 24, 2019 when he encountered officers. They stopped him after receiving calls of a “suspicious man.”
Soon, the situation escalated and they put McClain, a Denver native and massage therapist in Aurora, in a chokehold and forced him to the ground for 15 minutes. He eventually started vomiting and complaining that he couldn’t breathe.
“There was a physical struggle,” former APD Chief Nick Metz said back in October. “When (police) saw (McClain), they told him to stop. He wouldn’t stop. Again, he was wearing a ski mask, it’s 10:30 p.m. at night in a residential area, so obviously that creates some concern.”
However, according to Elijah’s family, he was anemic and he favored wearing a ski mask to keep his face warm while he was walking.
Metz further said that McClain was in an “agitated mental state,” which caused the cops to request backup from Aurora Fire paramedics, who injected McClain with sedative ketamine to respond to his reported anxiety before driving him to the hospital. McClain suffered a heart attack, went into a coma and died once he was taken off life support on August 30.
A spokesperson for the city of Aurora, Michael Bryant, and a police department spokesman, Officer Matthew Longshore, said that the decision to reopen the investigation would have to come from Young’s office. However, Young seemed to be unenthusiastic.
“I don’t open up investigations based on petitions,” he told Colorado Politics earlier in June. “Obviously, if there is new evidence to look at, I will look at the evidence in any case.”
“But no,” he added, “I’m not going to open up an investigation because people are signing a petition.”
In November 2019, Young ruled that criminal charges wouldn’t be pressed against the cops involved in the arrest of McClain because there wasn’t any indisputable evidence that an officer used “unjustified” force. In February 2020, the Aurora Police Department argued that the force applied to McClain was consistent with training as decided by a Force Review Board.
However, by June 9, Aurora’s interim police chief Vanessa Williams announced that the department would ban carotid pressure holds, which is commonly known as “chokeholds,” and implement four other police changes, effective immediately.
The change comes after protests hav erupted around the world when George Floyd died after being arrested by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. Fired officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck despite Floyd’s plea that he couldn’t breathe. Since then, activists have demanded policy changes throughout the country including banning the chokehold. City’s like New York hav already banned such maneuvers, especially as NYPD continues to face backlash for the death of Eric Garner in 2014. He also screamed “I can’t breathe” while being apprehended by the cops.
Now the fight has spread to Elijah McClain’s case with people on social media demanding justice and sharing his last words.
“Elijah McClain was a beautiful, gentle, introverted soul who played violin for stray cats,” one user wrote along with the graphic body camera footage from McClain’s arrest. “He was unarmed when cops attacked him for no good reason and MURDERED HIM OVER A YEAR AGO He deserves justice.”