Demonstrators marched Friday evening from the site of Aurora police’s violent apprehension of Elijah McClain last summer to the department’s District 1 station, where they declared they’ll peacefully remain until all of the officers involved in the 23-year-old’s death are fired.
Protesters surrounded the District 1 station at 13347 E. Montview Blvd. on Friday night in what they called the “APD Occupation,” reading McClain’s last words over a loudspeakers and chanting “I don’t see no no riot here! Why are you in riot gear!” at officers.
“Let us make it clear to you and your lying pigs this time we have no intentions to storm this precinct at this time,” an unidentified organizer said through a megaphone, reading from the Party for Socialism & Liberation’s open letter to interim Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson.
“We will make sure that every single person here tonight does not move from this spot surrounding the precinct until you publicly agree to fire Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard.”
Though previously planned, the march followed the announcement by Wilson that she had fired three officers, including two who posed for a photo reenacting a chokehold near a memorial to McClain, and a third officer who received the picture mocking the 23-year-old’s death.
That officer, Jason Rosenblatt, was one of the three involved in McClain’s death, though he, Woodyard and Roedema previously had been cleared of wrongdoing. All three were taken off street duty last month for their own safety, police said.
As night fell Friday, the protest was peaceful, with hundreds of people scattered around the outside of the station, sitting down on the lawn and pavement, playing music. Organizers encouraged people to invite their friends to come down, saying they weren’t going anywhere.
By 10 p.m., there still had been no show of force by Aurora police. Throughout the evening, the department periodically tweeted that the demonstrators “remain peaceful at District 1.”
A little after 11 p.m., Wilson spoke to one of the protest leaders from the Party for Socialism & Liberation in a phone call broadcast in part over the group’s megaphone. Of the demonstrators’ demands, Wilson said, “I do not have the power to fire these officers.”
Rashad Williams, one of the marchers, said he lives down the street from where McClain — who’d committed no crime — was stopped by police responding to a report of a suspicious person.
“I’m here because Black lives matter and Elijah McClain matters,” he said. “It could have been me. It has to stop.”
He also said he was sickened by the photo of the Aurora police officers reenacting the chokehold used on McClain. “It’s hard to imagine people don’t have empathy or compassion for a life lost, to make fun of a life lost.”
Pamela Howard said she was marching because she has a 19-year-old son and it could have been his life lost.
“I can’t rest. I can’t have peace. I can’t be OK until his murderers are arrested,” she said. “He did nothing wrong. He needs justice. I wish we would have did this a long time ago.”
— Matt Sebastian (@mattsebastian) July 4, 2020
Friday evening’s march comes as McClain’s death last August — after being put in a chokehold by police and injected with the heavy sedative ketamine by paramedics — has become part of the national push for racial justice and police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
Last weekend, demonstrators assembled outside the Aurora Police Department’s main headquarters, where riot police used pepper spray in their efforts to push back the protesters — a move that came under heavy criticism and was defended by police officials.
In recent weeks, Gov. Jared Polis has tapped the state’s attorney general to investigate the death and the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado and the Department of Justice have publicly acknowledged they’ve been reviewing the case since last year to determine whether a federal civil rights investigation is warranted.
The city of Aurora is also preparing to hire a new third-party investigator to relaunch its independent probe of the department’s actions.