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Civil Rights

Family of Elijah McClain, Black Man Murdered By Aurora Police, Sues City

— August 13, 2020

McClain was walking home from a convenience store when he was accosted by three White officers, who killed McClain after escalating the situation.

The family of Elijah McClain, an African-American man killed by police officers in Colorado, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Aurora.

According to CNN, the lawsuit relates McClain’s death with broader, nationwide trends, in which police disproportionately employ physical force against Black men and women.

“Aurora’s unconstitutional conduct on the night of August 24, 2019, is part of a larger custom, policy, and practice of racism and brutality, as is reflected by its conduct both before and after its murder of Elijah McClain, a young Black man,” the lawsuit states.

McClain—only twenty-three years old at the time of his death—was walking home from an Aurora convenience store when he was stopped by three White officers. He was not armed, and he was not suspected of having committed a crime.

According to CNN, McClain resisted contact—when he was approached by officers, McClain told them that he could not hear them because he was listening to music. Despite McClain’s explanation, an officer grabbed his arm, prompting McClain to protest and request that the officers respect his body and boundaries.

Des Moines residents protest police brutality following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer. Image via Flickr/user:Phil Roeder. (CCA-BY-2.0).

A struggle quickly ensued, during which an officer put McClain in a chokehold.

McClain, adds CNN, briefly lost consciousness while restrained.

But even after coming back to, McClain continued showing signs of distress. Paramedics arrived and administered ketamine, intended to sedate McClain.

However, McClain suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital. He was pronounced brain dead three days later.

Denver CBS Local says that Aurora police attempted to justify McClain’s murder by saying that he had reached for officers’ firearms—even though bodycam footage does not show McClain doing any such thing.

Despite Aurora’s trained police officers failing to de-escalate a young man’s predictable skepticism at being approached by law enforcement without cause, the city failed to take any disciplinary action against the three officers involved in McClain’s killing. While the officers were removed from patrol duty, they were not charged.

Disturbingly, one of the officers—identified by Denver CBS Local as Jason Rosenblatt—later uploaded a picture to social media, in which he, smiling and laughing, appears to re-enact the chokehold used to murder McClain.

While Rosenblatt was not fired for killing an unarmed man, he was, ironically, fired for sharing the picture.

Mari Newman, an attorney for the McClain family, suggested that Aurora’s killing of McClain, and the city’s failure to punish any of the officers involved, is indicative of institutional racism and systematic injustice.

“We have filed this civil rights lawsuit to demand justice for Elijah McClain, to hold accountable Aurora officials, police officers, and paramedics responsible for his murder, and to force the City of Aurora to change its longstanding pattern of brutal and racist policing,” Newman said.

Aurora and its police department, says CBS Local Denver, have faced substantial public push-back amidst nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Like McClain, Floyd died after an officer used unnecessary lethal force to restrain him.

Last week, Aurora appointed a new police chief—Vanessa Wilson—who has pledged to reform the department and encourage officers to consider whether their personal biases may interfere with policework.


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