Protesters call for justice for Elijah McClain

Noah Pasley

Hundreds gathered in Aurora, Colorado, to protest the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in 2019 after a violent encounter with the Aurora Police Department.

Protesters listened to speeches held outside the Aurora Municipal Building and many also gathered outside the Aurora Police Department on June 27. Protesters also held a vigil for Elijah McClain with a violin performance. Later on in the evening, police clashed with protesters, resulting in pepper spray being used on the crowd.


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The protest comes just days after Governor Polis announced that he had assigned Attorney General Phil Weiser to act as a special prosecutor in charge of investigating Elijah McClain’s death, and bringing criminal charges against any individual who caused it if evidence warrants it, according to The Denver Post.

I know for a fact being Black is not a crime, and I refuse to sit back and watch my people get killed for being Black.”-Lynnsie Holloway, protester

McClain was returning from a convenience store on August 24, 2019, when someone called 911, saying that he looked “sketchy,” according to the New York Times. When police arrived, officers brought him to the ground and applied a carotid hold, a chokehold that has been banned in Aurora in the past few weeks.

According to The New York Times, paramedics arrived and administered a dose of ketamine to McClain to sedate him. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital and died a few days later.

The protest was put on by students from Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools, and several students gave speeches during the proceedings. Lynnsie Holloway, a 17-year-old Black student from Denver East High School, said that she and the other students joined together because they were upset by the lack of attention McClain’s death has received.

“I wish so bad I didn’t have to stand before you and talk about such a terrible topic, but unfortunately this is our reality, this really hits close to home,” Holloway said to the crowd. “I know for a fact being Black is not a crime, and I refuse to sit back and watch my people get killed for being Black.”

Holloway encouraged people of color to know their rights under the 5th Amendment, and what they are required to do when pulled over by police. She also said that the audience should ask questions and do research to confront ignorance.

“It’s important to hear the youth speaking up, because clearly the youth are the ones being incarcerated and killed,” Holloway said in an interview with The Collegian. “I think that it was important for other people to see me and my power as just a 17 year old girl, and let them know that we can make a change.”

Holloway said that Saturday’s protest was special because they made sure to protest peacefully, to show that they don’t have to react violently. She also said that she would like to see people in the governor’s position and mayor’s position to speak out more.



“(Aurora Mayor) Mike Coffman has yet to speak on the situation, and refuses to share any information about the situation,” Holloway said. “Gov. Jared Polis … was refusing to open the investigation to investigate the death and investigate the officers who killed (McClain).”

Around 6:00 p.m., many of the protesters joined in a march from the Municipal Building to the intersection of Chambers Road and East First Avenue, shutting down traffic along Alameda Parkway as well.

People walk back to the Aurora Municipal Center after the march. Blockades were chalked with Elijah McClain’s name. (Katrina Leibee | The Collegian).

One of the students, Hermela Goshu, led the protest and directed protesters to kneel in the intersection of Chambers and Alameda. Goshu also directed protesters to kneel in the intersection of Chambers and East First Avenue, adding that a lot of the people in the adjacent neighborhoods don’t know who Elijah McClain is.

DonQuenick Beasley, a Black registered nurse, said she came out to support the life and family of Elijah McClain. She also stressed the importance of Black people in the U.S. for the production of crops like cotton, sugarcane and, more recently, cannabis.

Beasley is the founder of Give Us Our Harvest, a foundation dedicated to the recognition that the projected $77 billion cannabis industry was built on the backs of the Black community, according to the foundation’s website. She said that America and the white community has bred Black people to produce crops while reaping all the benefit.

“It’s a white privilege to work in the cannabis industry ’cause we were put in prison for it,” Beasley said. “Give us the harvest, give us what we were not only born but were bred to do, like sheep, dog and donkey.”

A sign from the protest at Aurora Municipal Center on June 27. Some signs alluded to the death of George Floyd, who said “I can’t breathe” before he was killed by a police officer. (Katrina Leibee | The Collegian).

Beasley also said that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Black people were put more at risk because they are often in jobs that are deemed to be essential and that the pandemic showed how easy it is to be quarantined when you have money.

“You can’t live without us, who’s gonna clean you up, who’s gonna cook, who’s gonna do your field,” Beasley said. “We are essential to white survival, so then do the right thing.”

On the march back to the Aurora Municipal Center, Goshu made an announcement that Aurora police had threatened violence against protesters at the Aurora Police Department, and redirected the march so many of the minors could get back to their cars safely. Several protesters escorted minors back to the parking lot, while others split off to join the group outside the police department.


Later in the evening, Aurora police began pushing protesters out of the space outside the police building, threatening the use of chemical agents and Long Range Acoustic Devices to deter protesters. After protesters pushed over a fence and advanced closer to the building, police used pepper spray, according to a tweet from @AuroraPD.


Paulina Smith, a white protester, was escorted to the parking lot and other protesters helped flush her eyes with water after coming into contact with the pepper spray. She said she also saw police strike protesters in front of her with their batons.

“The barricade eventually did come down just to show police that we don’t have plans to enter, and their barricades can’t stop us from protesting,” Smith said. “Nobody made any type of movement to come in … but the police put on their gas masks and marched towards us.”

Noah Pasley can be reached at or on Twitter @PasleyNoah.