“We are here for Elijah McClain, and we aren’t going anywhere,” said Eliza Lucero, one of the leaders of the Denver branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which had organized a rally to demand justice for McClain at 1 p.m. on November 21.
The demonstration began at the Colorado State Capitol, where a rally on behalf of Donald Trump had just ended.
Lucero and other PSL organizers tried to direct their group away from the Trump demonstration, which began marching downtown. Meanwhile, Denver Police Department officers were shuttled from one fault line to another, trying to prevent a confrontation.
“Remember why we are here,” Lucero shouted through a bullhorn as police in riot gear taped off the space between demonstrations. Other officers hung off the sides of SUVs that circled downtown, trying to shut down the streets surrounding three demonstrations as the Trump rally moved downtown and over a hundred protesters marched in support of Ethiopia.
While the PSL waited for sound equipment to arrive, Lucero explained the action: The group has been demanding justice for Elijah McClain for over a year; the 23-year-old massage therapist died after a violent encounter with Aurora police on August 24, 2019. In June, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order instructing Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute “any potential criminal activity by law enforcement officers or any other individuals that caused the death of Elijah McClain in Aurora.”
Earlier this month, Polis revised that order, and the words "any criminal activity by law enforcement officers or any other individuals that caused the death of Elijah McClain” no longer appear. Instead, the order now instructs Weiser to, “if deemed necessary, prosecute any persons for such offenses related to the August 24th encounter or subsequent death.”
PSL leaders are concerned about the removal of key language. "This opens up the possibility for Weiser to come back with watered-down charges against those killers, as occurred in the case of Breonna Taylor just a few weeks ago,” Lucero told the crowd.
Taylor, a medical worker in Louisville, Kentucky, was killed by gunfire in her apartment when police raided the place, looking for a former boyfriend who was not on the scene. No officers were charged with any crimes relating to Taylor’s death. “We have seen how this plays out over and over and over again all over the country," PSL leader Lillian House said after Joel Northam delivered the sound system. “Even when these cops are caught on camera, even when it's blatant, when they strangle or they put a knee on someone’s neck who isn’t moving, or they shoot someone in their pajamas.”
“Does Polis think that we are done?" House asked. "We are here to make it very clear: We are not done. Are we going to be here in the streets every time it is required? You can bet on that, Polis, and you can bet on that, Weiser. That is our message today.”
House, Lucero and Northam all face criminal charges in connection with earlier protests demanding justice for Elijah McClain, and they organized this action, too.
House spoke from the back of a pickup, prepared remarks in one hand and microphone in the other. “That eighteen-minute encounter that started with Elijah dancing on his way home that ended with him being strangled and shot in the neck with a lethal dose of horse tranquilizer — that is murder. That is not inconclusive. We want criminal charges, and we will settle for nothing less.”
The rally then moved down the street to the Colorado Justice Center. Outside Weiser's office, Northam read his own allegations. “If you want obstruction, just look at their own offices, their own people, every bureaucratic maneuvering to prevent justice from coming to that boy and that boy's family,” he said.
The continued classification of Elijah McClain as a suspect in the case, barring the McClains from basic forms of financial remuneration, including funeral costs, was just one of his charges. Northam also mentioned Aurora coroner Steven Cena, who “went far out of his way to list numerous potential causes of Elijah’s death, labeling the cause of death as inconclusive.” A year ago, 17th Judicial District Attorney Dave Young cleared all officers of potential charges. Northam also called out Mayor Mike Coffman, who promised that justice in McClain's case would be one of his first priorities when he took over. But so far, Northam said, there have been no meaningful steps toward justice.
“We are not the ones on trial here,” he told the crowd. “They are.”
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