Police pepper-sprayed and beat mourners at a violin vigil for Elijah McClain

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On Saturday, police in Aurora, Colorado, deployed tear gas on a crowd of peaceful protesters who gathered to honor Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after an encounter with police last year. Thousands of people, including families with young children, gathered to listen to violinists in remembrance of McClain, who would play his violin to animals at an Aurora-area shelter during his lunch breaks.

The event on Saturday started with a march and culminated with a violin vigil, according to a Facebook event post. In tandem with the march and vigil, the protesters demanded that the officers who tackled and restrained McClain, leading him to lose consciousness, be fired. "District Attorney Dave Young declined to press ANY charges against the involved officers and paramedics, and since then the entire machinery of the 'justice system' in Aurora has colluded to prevent any consequences from falling on the guilty officers, paramedics, or [Aurora Police Department]," the Facebook post read. Additionally, demonstrators demanded that a criminal case be opened against the arresting officers and paramedics who injected McClain with a lethal dose of ketamine to "calm" him after he was already unconscious, and that restitution be provided by the city to McClain's family.

A cousin of McClain's, Keisha Mosley, addressed the protesters on Saturday. She said, "At the end of the day, Elijah is not here anymore and as I have said before, I have Black sons and so it’s necessary. We need to be out here. They have got to be stopped."

A regional organization called Party for Socialism and Liberation worked to coordinate the day's protest. The group has been organizing for a year to push Aurora to take action regarding McClain's death. A local organizer named Eliza Lucero told Colorado Public Radio, "In the current state of police brutality being on the forefront of many Americans' minds, what better time to bring back up Elijah McClain and the atrocity of his murder by the Aurora Police Department."

Images and videos shared on Twitter show how Aurora police dressed in full riot gear marched into the park and deployed either pepper spray or tear gas into the crowd. Attendees of the Saturday rally said on Twitter that they were hit with tear gas, but the police department said that the smoke that can be seen rising into the air in videos posted to the social network was a result of pepper spray.

In many of the videos, police can be seen hitting protesters with their batons, many of whom are simply standing and milling around in the park. Colorado Public Radio reported that violinists continued to play their instruments even as police stormed the park: "It was a strange mix of sounds — joyful music from the violins, cellos and other instruments, protesters chanting at police who in turned shouted orders through a bull horn to vacate the park."

Spurred by the national movement against police killings of Black people and by public pressure regarding the killing of McClain, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) announced last week that a special prosecutor would investigate the case. "This case is a matter of statewide importance and it is necessary for the [Colorado] attorney general to act as the state’s prosecutor, investigate, and — if the evidence permits — prosecute potential criminal activity by individuals that caused the death of Elijah McClain," the governor said.