Think About It: Unhappy anniversary

The police saw Elijah McClain walking briskly and swinging a white plastic bag. The evening was dark and he was wearing what his mother later described as a runner’s mask. Elijah didn’t know someone called 911 to report a suspicious person in the area.

A patrol car stopped and an officer got out and approached Elijah saying, “I have a right to approach you, you’re being suspicious.” He put his hands on Elijah and Elijah, looking alarmed, cried out, “I’m an introvert.” Other officers arrived and together the officers brought him to the ground. A scuffle ensued in which Elijah seemed to resist and said, “I can’t breathe correctly.”

An officer instructed another to call the paramedics who arrived quickly and administered the drug ketamine to Elijah in an apparent effort to further subdue him. The drug did, and Elijah was transferred to the hospital where he died six days later when taken off life supports.

The above description of the event is from a video I saw recently on the morning news. The scene made me sad, especially when followed by the story of 23-year-old Elijah who was a runner, played the violin and laughed a lot. He seemed to have developed a story of who he was that he tried to explain to the police the night the police thought he was someone else.

A report commissioned by Aurora, Colo. officials to independently investigate Elijah’s death was released February 2021 concluded that officers put hands on Elijah within 10 seconds of leaving the patrol car. He was on a gurney to be transported to a hospital within 18 minutes of the first contact and during which time he was “subjected to multiple pressure holds” to subdue him. Paramedics were called and administered ketamine without physical assessment when an officer described Elijah’s behavior as “excited delirium.” The administered drug dose was for a man at least 50 pounds heavier than the 140 pounds. Elijah suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital.

The report, sharply critical of the officers, the paramedics and the internal investigation, offers greater detail of the 18 minutes interval. “The audio captured by the body worn camera contains two sharply contrasting narratives — on the one hand, Mr. McClain pleading, apologizing, and expressing pain, and on the other hand, the officers continuing to perceive resistance.” The report goes on to say officers did not release pressure on Elijah even though he was becoming increasingly ill, unresponsive and began vomiting. The investigators could not determine from the audio/video if he was in fact resisting or trying to get away from the pressure on his chest and getting positioned to vomit.

Make Black Lives Matter

The results of an investigation of the death of Elijah McClain following an arrest August 2019 were released fully 18 months after the fact and nine months after the death of George Floyd. Why so long to investigate the horror that happened to this young man who kept telling the officers that he was an introvert, then apologizing and finally, telling them he couldn’t breathe?

A bit less than a year ago, many witnessed on video replays the death of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer appearing so casual that any minute I expected him to take out a file to do his nails. Floyd had no weapon and was not being held for any criminal offense that warranted his capture, torture and death.

Nor did Elijah. Nor did Trayvon Martin whose death at the hands of a person, not a police officer, who thought him suspicious while walking to a family friend’s home.

Trayvon’s shooter was acquitted which gave birth to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2013.

I find it hard to understand why some can’t connect the dots when BLM protests occur after yet another senseless killing of a black man walking. We have good evidence that white men walking don’t suffer at the hands of the police and others in the absence of an identified crime simply because thought to be suspicious.

What I do understand is the diversionary strategy or tactics of an influential block of the Republican party to label BLM as an extreme and violent movement without merit.

Early this month, the House passed the H.R.7120 — George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 which contains several actions to reduce a “pattern and practice of bias or misconduct in police departments.” The prospects of Congressional Republicans embracing the act seem slim given their intentions to continue to woo white supremacy and militia groups. Besides, they are busy promoting laws to make it more difficult for black people to vote.

Their resistance to accept a entire group of people as valued citizens shouldn’t stop the effort. However, we will need the same vigor of purpose that we bring to attacking the virus or investigating the violence of Jan. 6 to be brought to correcting our long-standing issues of inequity and exclusion.

It won’t be easy. Opposing forces know these “incidents” pass through our field of vision. I heard a retired police captain give it a shrug when he said, (protests) will go away, they always do. His answer to the question of “how many times will the death of an innocent black man cycle through the press and the protests only to occur again and again’ will be “endless times.”

Painful reflection

I wonder if the retired captain understands that there is a growing awareness among white people that black lives have not mattered.

Yes, it’s painful to fully realize the despair of years of slow progress toward equity and inclusion stuck in these cycles of two steps forward and, if lucky, only one step back. And now it feels like giant steps back when we hear loud calls for suppressing black people by throngs of people, mostly men calling for white superiority in all things and the denial of the voices of all others.

Since the disproportionate deaths of people of color from COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd occurred, we can no longer turn our eyes away from the discrimination, systematic and otherwise, of people of color.

Except now we are aware and if we deny or are silent we become complicit in the making of laws and rules that establish the right of the government to shred another person’s civil and human rights.

Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at columnists@sequimgazette.com.

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