Protests in question to mark 1 year of tumult after death of Elijah McClain

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The memorial site across the street from where 23-year-old Elijah McClain was stopped by Aurora, Colo., Police Department officers while walking home during a news conference Friday, July 3, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AURORA |A kaleidoscopic web of events scheduled to honor Elijah McClain has emerged on social media as the calendar moves toward the one-year anniversary of his death, though cancellations and competing social media messages have left plans discombobulated.

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Local police last week warned more than 100 east Aurora business owners to prepare for possible violence during a massive demonstration planned to course through the city in memory of McClain Aug. 23, though organizers have since canceled the event.

McClain’s mother, Sheneen, issued a lengthy Facebook post Aug. 13 explaining why she and her family nixed the car protest originally slated for Sunday afternoon.

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“This has gotten way out a hand, so my family and I are canceling the events for Aug. 23rd 2020,” she wrote on Facebook. “As a family, we will continue to mourn the loss of Elijah McClain and appreciate all that pray for Elijah’s Peace as well. I will not be involved in celebrating his death as you all keep repeating his dying words like it’s ok. It’s not okay to repeat my son’s dying words because that’s all you can think to do. Think harder!!!! That hurts me, his mom! Is that your goal?”

Candice Bailey, who sits on the city’s nascent community police task force and has been a fixture at local demonstrations held for McClain in the past year, said the event evolved into a gathering afield of what McClain’s family had originally envisioned.

“It was just going to be a small group of us walking from the gas station back to where the murder site is, and somehow it evolved into this other animal,” Bailey said. ” … It turned into a three-ring circus. It turned into nothing that the family wanted and everything that somebody else really desired, and it was just overwhelming.”

Statements McClain made to police as they detained him on his way home from a local convenience store last August have become the subject of protest signs, artwork and refrains at demonstrations across the country this summer. The full transcript of McClain’s final words also opens a 106-complaint the McClain family’s attorney filed in federal court against the city and first responders earlier this week.

Sheneen McClain registered her son’s name as a trademark in Colorado earlier this summer to curb the exponential use of his name on clothing, in social media handles and elsewhere.

“Elijah McClain’s name is trademarked now, any use of his name without prior consent from me, his mother will be seen as an attempt to corrode Elijah’s message,” she wrote on Twitter July 17. “Humanity Matters so STOP doing INHUMANE things to people.”

It’s unclear who, when and where people may congregate to remember McClain this weekend. A new Facebook event advertising an identical gathering to the original was posted shortly after organizers issued their cancelation notice. McClain’s family has denounced the new event.

“Not real or supported by Elijah’s family,” Sheneen wrote of the event on Facebook Aug. 17.

Aurora police were steeling local business owners for the original event and a separate gathering entitled “Elijah’s Walk Home” that some 3,000 people had pledged to attend via Facebook. That demonstration’s digital page has also been deleted.

“With the large amount of people and the possibility of unrest, the Aurora Police Department wanted you to be informed so that you could take any lawful precautions you feel are needed for you, your employees or your business,” the letter sent to business owners along the East Colfax corridor reads. “APD suggests that you take the time to discuss a plan with employees on what you would like them to do with the possible scenarios … from a disorderly crowd that attempts to enter your store, looting, exterior and interior damages, securing the store for the night, or if employees must evacuate on short notice.”

Police also urged business owners to consider installing video cameras, hiring security guards or installing bars on windows.

Officer Crystal McCoy, a spokesperson for Aurora police, said 116 letters were given to businesses along Colfax between Interstate 225 and East Dunkirk Street.

McCoy said police engaged in “heavy comms efforts” prior to other large protests prompted by McClain’s death earlier this summer.

Police faced backlash for using pepper spray and smoke canisters at a violin vigil held for McClain on June 27, and again for not intervening during a chaotic scene in front of the department’s headquarters on July 25. At the latter event, dozens of windows were smashed and fireworks were shot into buildings hours after the driver of a Jeep Rubicon careened into a mass of protesters on Interstate 225. A 23-year-old man is suspected of firing a gun as the Jeep tore through the throng. Bullets struck two people, though both survived.

Bailey said she and others will likely gather privately this weekend, although there are plans to publicly congregate at the Colorado Capitol the evening of Aug. 22 to reciprocate a 1,000-mile journey local activists made to Louisville, Kentucky last month. The caravan entitled “1,000 miles for Breonna Taylor” started in Aurora and culminated in protests in Kentucky for Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT shot and killed by police in her home in March.

Bailey said Louisville residents are planning on making the trek west next weekend to support McClain’s family.