The One About Elijah McClain

I couldn’t sleep last night as I dug deeper into the life of Elijah McClain.

All of the stories of black lives lost are hard to read about, but this one in particular hit me extra hard. I told Chris it was my cold acting up as I got out of bed to get more Kleenex. The more I read about Elijah and his love for animals, how he was known to play violin for cats in shelters so they wouldn’t get lonely, how he pleaded with the cops to leave him alone stating, “I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all.” How he was tackled to the ground by men much larger than him. How he apologized as he started throwing up as they made it difficult for him to breath. And I just don’t get it. I don’t get any of it. And it makes me so damn sad.

I feel like I know Elijah. Or I want to know him. The way he dances in the break room video, his sweet smile, his final words to the police officers as he begs for life, telling them they’re phenomenal and he’ll do anything if they just let him breath.

But they don’t. They choose not to let up. And Elijah eventually dies in the hospital . And nearly one year later people like you and me are just finding out about this and I just don’t get it.

For those that don’t know, last August in Aurora, Colorado, Elijah was walking home from buying an iced tea when a neighbor called him in for suspicious activity. His “suspicious activity” was that he was wearing a ski mask and dancing to music. Those who knew Elijah say he was anemic and always cold and thus he wore hoods, hats, ski masks, etc to stay warm. In the videos I’ve seen of him shared by friends, he’s the only one in the room dressed like it’s winter when others are not.

When the police officers confronted Elijah he responded with, “I have a right to go where I am going.” When they grabbed him, he said, “I am going home… leave me alone.” And “Let me go. I am an introvert. Please respect my boundaries.” And then the three officers, much larger than 140 pound Elijah, threw him against a wall, and tackled him to the ground and one of them applied a cartoid control hold around his neck.

And then Elijah starts to cry and plead, “I’m so sorry.” He’s handcuffed and he starts to vomit, still apologizing. I keep thinking about how scared he must have been, this guy who seemed like such a kind and gentle soul. What must have been going through his mind at this point? The police then call the medics and they inject Elijah with a ketamine to sedate him. But unfortunately they give him a dose much too large for his size.

And somewhere in between being tackled and drugged, as Elijah begs for his life, he tells the officers they are phenomenal and beautiful. I know I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth mentioning again. Elijah asks for forgiveness, even tells them he’s a moody gemini. Maybe it’s little stuff like this that makes me feel like I know him, little bits of his quirky personality poking through even as he begs for this life.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Team work makes the dream work. (crying)… Oh I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breath correctly (he proceeds to vomit from the pressure applied to his chest and neck.)

This is all recorded on the officer’s body cameras. It’s also recorded where one of the officer’s tells the other, “move your camera, dude.”

Six days later after suffering two cardiac arrests Elijah McClain was pronounced dead.

Elijah’s smile, his dancing, his caring for unwanted animals in shelters; every last bit of this story has wrecked me. I don’t understand why he’s not here today. And I know that if this wouldn’t have been recorded I wouldn’t be posting this today. I wonder how many other Elijahs have we lost? How many more will we?

Sign the petition for justice for Elijah here. Keep the dialogue going. If you don’t care, you should.