Elijah McClain taught himself how to play the violin which he would play to soothe stray kittens at the local shelter on his lunch break. He was a massage therapist, a vegetarian, a self described pacifist, and was described by all who knew him as a quirky and gentle soul.
On the night of August 24th, 2019, Elijah was walking home from the store in his neighborhood in Aurora, Colorado. He wore a ski mask as he had anemia and would get cold very easily. That night the Aurora Police Department received a call about a “suspicious person” walking and waving their arms. This call, like so many used against Black and Brown people, was a death sentence.
When the police arrived they assaulted Elijah, putting him in a choke hold. In a video clip of the incident McClain could be heard politely reasoning with officers: “I’m an introvert, please respect my boundaries that I am speaking.” A plea that would go ignored. His last words underscored the generous compassion and humanity of this young man:
“I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.”
Elijah had no weapon, only a can of ice tea he had bought for his brother. After passing out from the choke hold, a medic injected him with ketamine before he was taken to a local hospital. Just days later he was taken off life support after he was declared brain dead. He was only 23 years old.
Tonight, in Colorado, scores of violinists have flown in to honor Elijah. Because his life mattered. Just like George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, and Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland, and too many others to list here.
Elijah’s life mattered. Black lives matter.
Kenn Orphan June 2020