US and World Politics

“Please Forgive Me”

Elijah McClain’s plea as three cops murdered him

By Abby Zimet

June 26, 2020—Another one. This week, three Aurora, Colorado cops were removed from active duty and the state’s governor announced a new investigation into the death last year of Elijah McClain, a slight, gentle, quirky, vegetarian, 23-year-old massage therapist with “a child-like spirit” who was walking home listening to music when the cops stopped, choked and killed him for looking “suspicious,” also Black. On Aug. 24, police got a call about a young man waving his hands (see “music”) and wearing a ski mask, reportedly because he often got cold from his anemia and, as an introvert, a mask helped with his social anxiety—an affliction that also led him to visit shelter cats and dogs on his lunch break to play violin for them in hopes it would soothe them. That night, he was on his way home from a nearby convenience store to buy an iced tea for his brother when officers Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema confronted him; though the caller had said he wasn’t armed and had committed no crime, one of the three cops put McClain in a

carotid hold, which cuts off blood to the brain, because a 5-foot-6-inch, 140-pound young man with “crazy strength” “resisted contact,” cop-ese for “was terrified out of his mind.” Due to his “agitated mental state,” they then called medics to inject McClain with ketamine to sedate him. En route to the hospital, he suffered two heart attacks; when he was taken off life support a few days later, his family said he was brain dead and covered in bruises.

The officers were subsequently cleared of wrongdoing after the DA concluded they had “lawful reason” to assault McClain and the force they applied was “consistent with training;” officials also cited unclear (though sickening) video footage and autopsy findings that noted “the decedent’s physical exertion (may have) contributed to death.” Recently, amidst nationwide protests against such police atrocities, pressure has been building to bring McClain’s killers to justice. On Thursday, almost a year later, after millions of people signed an online petition, thousands called local and state officials, and many posted their outrage on social media, Governor Jared Polis announced he’s appointing a special prosecutor to re-investigate and possibly prosecute those who killed McClain. After a year, the three cops have also finally been removed from regular duty; police will be barred from using carotid holds, and dispatchers will curb calls on “suspicious persons.” Still, the story horrifies. So does the video, however murky, with McClain’s frantic, frightened last words: “I’m sorry” (as he vomits,) “I’m just different,” “Please forgive me,” “I love you.” When the governor announced his action, he said he’d been moved by Elijah’s mom describing “a responsible and curious child...who could inspire the darkest soul.” One of Elijah’s friends likewise recalls “the sweetest, purest person I have ever met...a light in a whole lot of darkness.” So yes, he was all that. But nobody should have to be any of that to not be murdered by cops—because, one more bruised and furious time, his Black life mattered.

Common Dreams, June 26, 2020