AURORA | More than 1,000 people encircled an Aurora Police Department substation beside the Anschutz Medical Campus for nearly 12 hours late Friday and early Saturday morning, demanding that a pair of Aurora police officers who detained Elijah McClain last year be fired.
The group marched at about 6:30 p.m. Friday to the outpost of the police department’s first district on Wheeling Street. The swarm of demonstrators, led by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, walked from a nearby block on Billings Street, adjacent to Interstate 225. That’s where McClain, a 23-year-old unarmed Black man, was stopped by police last year after a passerby reported that he looked “sketchy.” McClain died six days later.
The so-called “occupation” was staged just hours after Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson announced the firing of three officers involved in the dissemination of a photo mocking the carotid control hold applied to McClain’s neck on Aug. 24, 2019. A fourth officer featured in the reviled selfies resigned from the department on Thursday.
Organizers for the Party for Socialism and Liberation had been planning an event calling for the firing of Aurora officers Randy Roedema and Nathan Woodyard for about a week, though the original event posting suggested that marchers would walk more than three miles to Aurora police headquarters on East Alameda Avenue.
An organizer, who only identified himself as Joel, said the group purposefully skewed their Facebook post in an effort to throw police off their trail.
“That was a part of the plan,” Joel said.
For hours on Friday night, demonstrators danced, ate pizza and hurled chants and invectives at officers seen behind glass doors and on the roof of the building located just north of the hulking medical complex.
“This just feels like a big block party,” said City Councilperson Juan Marcano, who berated police in a public meeting earlier this week for their response to a violin vigil held in front of city hall. At that event, officers used pepper spray and smoke canisters to disperse so-called “agitators” as musicians from across the country blared music from violins and other string instruments.
At around 11:30 p.m., a PSL organizer spoke with Wilson in a phone call that was projected through a bullhorn for all to hear. The organizer, who introduced herself as Lillian, reiterated the group’s demands to fire Roedema and Woodyard, both of whom were involved in detaining McClain.
Wilson thanked the group for refraining from attempting to forcibly enter the police station and said she does not have the power to unilaterally fire officers. She added that department resources were being stretched throughout the evening because officers were unable to leave the station and respond to 911 calls across north Aurora. The city was placed on accident alert, meaning it would only respond to the area’s most serious incidents, earlier in the evening. That protocol remains in place Saturday.
Police reiterated their concerns via a Twitter thread that began at 2:28 a.m.
“Individuals in #APDOccupation are preventing officers from providing service to the community,” police wrote in a tweet.
At the same time, police began issuing orders to leave the “immediate area around the building.” Officers did not deploy any chemical agents such as pepper spray or tear gas during the event, but police fired at least five foam rounds at demonstrators who were igniting fireworks, a department spokesman confirmed Saturday.
Two people were arrested on failure to obey and highway obstruction charges, police said. A third person was detained but released.
Police reported gunshots in the area of East 30th Avenue and Scranton Street, located about a mile from the so-called occupation, possibly being fired at officers at about 11:45 p.m., according to a department spokesman. There were no additional details immediately available on the possible gunshots.
Until about sunrise, small groups stayed in the area around Victor Street and East Montview Boulevard where gatherers had piled rocks, traffic signs and various refuse in an attempt to prevent the flow of traffic. The temporary blockades were removed Saturday morning.
Police reported that there were no demonstrators outside of the substation late Saturday morning. A group of less than five people were spotted in the area earlier in the day.
Earlier in the morning, organizers issued a plea on social media asking supporters for supplies, encouraging participation and saying they will return until demands are met regarding the firing of the two officers.