Demonstrators in Aurora, Colorado, staging a violin vigil in memory of Elijah McClain, who was killed by police last year, were met with an intense police presence and pepper spray on Saturday (June 27).
McClain, himself a violinist, was remembered by the group of fellow violinists at Aurora’s Municipal Center who were simply playing medleys of songs in his honor.
The event “was a peaceful protest, with people carrying violins and cellos, playing in honor of Elijah McClain," Joy Adams, a cellist who came from Boulder to participate, told Violinist.com. "There were children in the crowd, musicians playing, people holding candles and roses and sitting on the ground...We were playing Pachelbel's Canon, and the police went nuts -- beating people with batons and spraying tear gas in their faces."
As the vigil proceeded, police arrived in riot gear, commanding attendees to disperse, according to the Aurora Sentinel. That’s when chaos ensued.
Arts journalist John Moore described the incident on his Facebook page.
“A call went out for bowed instrument players to come to Aurora's City Center Park for an improvised, peaceful jam to honor and grieve the senseless loss of #ElijahMcClain,” he wrote. “But just before the scheduled 8:30 start time, pepper spray was deployed, followed by rows of Aurora police in riot gear methodically moving the hundreds who had spread out all over the lawn in front of city hall toward an empty parking lot far from where a few dozen musicians bravely played, and played on.
“Thankfully, the police never went after the musicians themselves, but they incited unnecessary aggression and heightened tension (but no violence) from a crowd that wasn't there to make noise,” he continued. “They were there to listen. To music. But once provoked, the music became the soundtrack to an ugly conflict between art and authority.”
McClain, 23, was reportedly walking home from a convenience store on August 24, 2019, when police responded to a call of a “suspicious man” with a ski mask. Officers detained him by placing him in a chokehold. Paramedics arrived on the scene and injected him with a large dosage of ketamine.
Body camera footage shows McClain being wrestled to the ground, vomiting, crying and gasping “I can’t breathe,” as police detained him. Three days later, he was declared brain dead and an autopsy as to the cause of his death was found inconclusive.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appointed the state’s attorney general Phil Weiser to reopen the investigation into McClain’s death.
Photo Credit: Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images