DENVER (CBS4) – Hundreds danced, reflected and honored the life of Elijah McClain at a “gathering in gratitude” event held Sunday evening, nearly a year after the 23-year-old died following an encounter with Aurora police officers. The Denver event was held outside the Montbello Recreation Center, where organizers brought in a DJ, video game truck, and food truck for attendees to enjoy. Throughout the night there were also musical performances by violinists and singers.
According to organizer and McClain family friend, Candice Bailey, the focus of the night was on music, at the request of Elijah’s mother, Sheneen McClain.
“We had to get something that transcended the things that we are seeing right now,” said Bailey. “Sheneen said I just want music. I don’t want confusion, I don’t want ego, I want us to speak a language that we all speak.”
Monday marks one year since McClain was arrested by Aurora police after someone reported a suspicious person walking with a mask on. Police questioned McClain, who was walking home from a convenience store and had not committed a crime, and later placed him in a chokehold.
While officers had McClain on the ground, paramedics injected him with the sedative, ketamine. McClain suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance and was pulled off life support on Aug. 30, 2019.
Over the past few months, protesters have called on city leaders to fire the involved officers, who remain on the job. There are currently at least five ongoing investigations into what lead to McClain’s death and into the Aurora Police Department.
“It makes me really sad to know that he passed away in the streets of my city,” said 17-year-old Brandy Nalyanya, who attended the Sunday night gathering with her mother.
Nalyanya, who says she’s attended numerous rallies since the death of McClain, was one of many attendees who spent the night listening to music and dancing on the rec center football field. She described the event as a “beautiful way to remember his memory.”
“Everyone here probably has the same common goal in mind, so maybe we just leave with a beautiful mind and just thinking about his family and his legacy,” Nalyanya said.
Community organizer Apryl Alexander said the event highlighted the importance of community in the larger effort to bring about change.
“With things like Senate Bill 217, with better awareness to his case, we’re making those steps towards change,” Alexander said. “Sheneen McClain called us out a year ago that it wasn’t this many people. Now the whole nation and the whole world knows Elijah’s name.”
Another event planned Sunday night called “Elijah’s Walk Home” was cancelled after McClain’s mother said it was “turning into a three-ring circus.” On Sunday, organizer Candice Bailey stressed the importance of supporting the family and allowing members to grieve.
“They need love and they need people to stop glamourizing, stop politicizing, stop trying to make money off the backs of their tragedy, and to be a human being,” Bailey said.