On Saturday, July 25, a peaceful rally in support of justice for the late Elijah McClain and demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, faced with the deployment of federal troops was followed by a vandalism spree and an incident on Interstate 225 during which a driver may or may not have targeted people blocking the highway and shots were fired, injuring two people. Oh, yeah: An Aurora police car was stolen, too.
In response, Mayor Mike Coffman took to Twitter and did his best Donald Trump impression, branding those responsible as "domestic terrorists" in a tweet he subsequently deleted. But he's letting stand a rambling, grammatically incorrect July 26 screed in which he implies that law enforcement's decision to eschew the kinds of tactics for which the City of Aurora was sued last week signaled "weakness" — a claim that hints at the prospect of a heavy-handed crackdown in the future.
The aforementioned class-action lawsuit was filed over a previous protest about the death of McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed black man who was attacked by police officers in August 2019 despite having committed no crime; a 911 caller alerted authorities after seeing him dancing to music while wearing a ski mask. At a June 27 rally, during which musicians played violins in tribute to McClain, who loved the instrument, hundreds of people were rousted by Aurora police officers armed with pepper spray and more.
Video of what went down that day made international news, yet Aurora authorities insist that officers did nothing wrong — a claim roundly rejected by attorney Mari Newman, who represents McClain's family and filed the complaint on behalf of five named plaintiffs and other attendees able to join the cause later. "This outrageous treatment of peaceful protesters and vigil attendees is one more example of a department that is totally out of control," Newman told us last week. "And its actions were particularly surprising in light of the fact that only about a month ago, a United States federal court judge issued an injunction against the City of Denver for using the same kinds of force against protesters there. Aurora was absolutely on notice that its conduct was illegal, and yet it couldn't resist."
The July 25 event, titled "Solidarity With Portland Action and Justice for Elijah McClain," attracted hundreds of demonstrators, as seen in the following Unicorn Riot clip:
Many of the participants eventually moved onto Interstate 225, as they had during the gathering on June 27. At around 7 p.m., according to an account published on the Aurora Police blog, "officers observed, from a media helicopter, a Jeep that was traveling northbound on I-225 heading towards the protesters. The Jeep then drives into the crowd. While the Jeep was being driven through the crowd, multiple shots were fired by a protester. At this time, it is unknown if multiple people fired their weapons, or if it was just one individual. Also, there have been no reported injuries reported to us about anyone being hit by this vehicle."
However, the report continues, "two people were struck by gunfire. One adult male was shot in the leg and had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance. Another adult male was shot in the head, only causing a graze wound. He was transported to the hospital by a private vehicle. The Jeep continued northbound on I-225, eventually exiting the interstate at East 6th Avenue. The driver pulled over at E. 6th Ave and Billings Street when he located officers who were investigating a separate, unrelated crash at that location. The driver was positively identified, questioned, and the Jeep was impounded for evidentiary purposes."
The driver insisted that he hadn't purposefully tried to injure demonstrators. Instead, the APD blog recaps, "he advised officers that while on I-225, his vehicle began to be surrounded by protesters, who were yelling and striking his vehicle. He also claims that a white pickup truck struck the front of his vehicle. He claims that the reason that he drove towards the protesters is because he was scared and trying to get away."
This assertion isn't universally accepted. Even CBS4 Denver reporter Dillon Thomas reports that, based on his observations, the car "‘aggressively’ made its way toward protesters." But no charges have been pressed to date — although the Aurora Police Department has now released photos of a man described as a "person of interest" in the shooting.
Back at the Aurora Municipal Center, remaining protesters reportedly set fires, ripped down wooden window coverings and more, actions that so incensed Coffman he used the "domestic terrorists" phrase.
But while this contention was removed from his Twitter account, Aurora's mayor hasn't excised the following observations, which were accompanied by photos of damage.
This is the unedited version of what Coffman had to say on July 26:
This morning I went over the Aurora Municipal Complex to survey the damage from last nights violence. From the report that I received late last night, approximately 600 individuals attended the protest was over about 150 stayed behind. Those who remained sought to bait the police into a confrontation and to destroy as much public property as possible. The focus of their main effort was on the destruction of our court house where they managed to tear down the plywood protecting the large glass windows and smashed through all but one on the south side of the building. Make no mistake about it, the ones who remained behind were not protesters but simply using the protest as a cover for their violent actions. I understand that our police department chose to show restraint last night by not using nonlethal munitions but now these individuals smell weakness, my concern is that they will be back again and again until they achieve their goal. Tomorrow [July 27] I will request a briefing on the incident by the interim Chief of Police to myself and members of our city council and I will be asking why our court house was not adequately defended.Coffman doesn't mention the time when the briefing mentioned above will take place, or what he might direct police officers to do should they encounter folks who assume that the lawsuit and the global embarrassment caused by the June 27 assaults have rendered them impotent.
But of late, Aurora has done little to convince observers not to expect the worst.
This post has been updated to include information about the identification of a person of interest in the July 25 shooting on Interstate 225.