Aurora Police Chief defends officers’ actions during the protest against Elijah McClain – The Denver Post
Aurora interim police chief said it was necessary to use lines of riot police to clear a Saturday protest from the town’s urban area because some members of the crowd threw stones and water bottles at the police or tried to fight police officers.
Undercover police mingled with the crowd of protesters – who were protesting the death of Elijah McClain by Aurora police last year – heard people talking about rushing the department headquarters and saw people in the crowd, the stones Distributed, said interim boss Vanessa Wilson Monday in an interview with the Denver Post.
Wilson blamed a small group of agitators within the larger, largely peaceful crowd for the escalation. A man legally armed with a handgun also climbed a wall and reached the officers and protesters, which made the officers nervous, Wilson said.
“We were attacked with stones and had to defend our officers,” she said, adding that some tried to take the officers’ batons and hit them with a flag. “My officers are not sacrificial lambs.”
The department’s narrative clashes with what protesters have been saying for two days – that Aurora police escalated tensions after hours of peaceful protests on Saturday, and that officials beat, shoved and peppered peaceful protesters. People attending the protests said the police had aggressively approached the crowd several times for no apparent reason.
“Even if a protester has thrown a stone or a stick, if this is the reaction of a crowd full of families to a protester or two who have thrown a stone or a stick, I think they should think seriously about their reaction,” said Jolene Fisher, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, who attended the demonstration.
As the department’s actions continued to attract local and national attention, Aurora’s Mayor Mike Coffman convened a special meeting of the city council at 5:30 p.m. Monday to allow police to discuss their response and answer questions from the city tour. The meeting will be streamed live online on AuroraTV.org.
“We hear many questions and concerns from the community about the tactics of the Aurora police force during the protests on Saturday, and the council needs to know firsthand what exactly happened,” said Coffman. “The tragic death of Elijah McClain over the weekend spawned many peaceful people who want their voice to be heard and unfortunately there has been interference that overshadows the broader message. I look forward to working with the city council to understand more and make sure we are open and transparent with our residents. “
Andy Cross, The Denver Post
Elijah McClain protesters in a gas cloud from Aurora Police officers at the Aurora Police Department Headquarters at the Aurora Municipal Center June 27, 2020. Elijah McClain died on August 30, 2019, several days after fighting with the Aurora Police.
Recordings of the actions of the officers
Videos from Saturday night show lines of dozens of officers using 42-inch batons to push and shove groups. Other videos show officials beating protesters with batons and spraying them with pepper spray – including a woman running away from them. Another shows several officers in full riot gear surrounding a kneeling girl with a shield.
And another shows officers beating a protester as he sat on the ground in front of their advancing line, holding a sign with one hand and his phone in the other.
A brief montage of body cameras released by Aurora police on Monday shows an officer being hit by something and protesters pushing down a barricade.
Police notes from the protest sent to news outlets show that officials saw people climb over barricades and dismantle them, as well as pick up sticks and stones. An entry shows that Arapahoe County MPs believed a person drank a Molotov cocktail when it turned out to be actually a squeeze bottle. Officials reported to news agencies that police saw people throwing water bottles, stones and traffic cones in the crowd.
The only damage to the city’s buildings, according to a statement by Coffman, was letters torn from the front of the history museum and a single act of graffiti.
Law enforcement on site used a smoke canister, pepper spray, bean bags and foam bullets, said Wilson, who reiterated the department’s assurances that officers were not using tear gas. She said the less lethal projectiles were only used against people who were actively fighting with the police.
Three outside agencies – the Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams Counties Sheriff’s Offices – also responded to the protests in support. MPs from these agencies adhered to Aurora’s violence policy, Aurora police spokeswoman Faith Goodrich said.
All police officers who were exposed to body cameras were instructed to wear them and turn them on, Goodrich said. But not all officers – like Aurora’s detectives – are given body cameras, and so may not have worn them during the protest.
Police violence was particularly disheartening as protesters used the city’s main public square to hear their voices, said Senator Jeff Bridges, whose district is part of Aurora.
“It’s injustice piled on injustice,” said Bridges. “These were people who protested the murder of Elijah McClain, and then the Aurora police came out and violated their Amendment First Rights.”
Rachel Ellis, The Denver Post
Community members and “white allies” protect violinists and young children who attended a concert in honor of Elijah McClain when things get violent outside the Aurora Police Department headquarters on Saturday, June 27, 2020.
Faced a peaceful crowd
Fisher and her husband arrived at the community center around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, she said. They marched with a group of youth led before returning to the grassy lawn. Later, around 8 p.m., she sat and listened to violinists playing a vigil for 23-year-old McClain, who played the violin.
“It was beautiful, we looked around and said, ‘Wow, look at all the families,’ several times,” said Fisher.
But the peace was soon broken by the popping of gas cans and less lethal projectiles that scattered and terrified the crowd of hundreds.
“I look around for kids crying in the parking lot. Mothers try to collect their scattered children,” Fisher said.
A video recorded by Aurora City Councilor Juan Marcano shows the moments when the police confront the crowd and split them in two. As the violinists played, a line of officers in all-black combat clothing marched along the sidewalk that lined the large expanse of grass.
“Keep playing!” People in the crowd, some sitting on the lawn, conjured up the musicians. The violinists resumed their music after a pause and continued while dozens of police officers marched onto the lawn, pushing back protesters, and a cloud of smoke rising in the air.
The music soon mingled with the demonstrators’ chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame! “Looked at the officers, golden evening light glittering from their face visors.
“This is America, folks,” said Marcano.
Rachel Ellis, the Denver Post
A man stands outside the Aurora Police Department headquarters during a protest for Elijah McClain on Saturday, Jan.
“He saved us”
Fisher, who was in the crowd of people being pushed back, said the police took everyone to the edge of the park where a violinist jumped on the back of a truck and started playing again. The music spread the situation and protesters began singing and dancing to perform a song by Alicia Keys to the musician.
“It was like he saved us from that moment that was going to be so volatile,” Fisher said of the violinist.
Wilson admitted that people who listened to violinists peacefully would be afraid of rows of riot police marching down the lawn. She said the department’s intent is to separate those who peacefully listen to the musicians from those who cause problems.
Of the peaceful people trapped in the crowd that was being pushed across the lawn, Wilson said she wished they had listened to the order to disband.
The two people arrested during the protest were from Westminster and Glenwood Springs, Wilson said.
Officers were injured and scraped up as a result of the protests, but none were hospitalized for those injuries, Wilson said.