DENVER — Sheneen McClain is not always hopeful but thinks it’s possible the death of her son Elijah McClain could create change.
Officers in suburban Denver stopped the 23-year-old Black massage therapist in 2019 as he walked home from the store after getting a 911 call that he looked suspicious. They put him in a neckhold and pinned him down, and later paramedics sedated him with ketamine.
An investigation commissioned by the city of Aurora after McClain’s death got renewed attention during the nationwide push for racial justice said last week that there was no apparent legal justification for police to stop or use force on him.
Sheneen McClain said she knew her son was innocent but is glad the world knows it, too. When people die at the hands of police, the first question many ask is what the person was doing wrong and then write it off when they find out, she told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.
“But you can’t do that with Elijah. You can’t just be like ‘OK’ with Elijah. You just, you got to know why, why it happened. It just invokes people to want to change things,” she said.
Since her son’s story spread around the world amid the reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice, people have been drawn to stories about Elijah McClain, including how he played his violin to comfort cats at an animal shelter and what he said to the officers who stopped him.
Captured on police body camera footage, he tells officers that he’s an introvert and “different” several times. Later, while officers talk to each other about what happened, McClain says he doesn’t believe in guns, doesn’t kill flies or eat meat and that “you are all phenomenal, you are beautiful.” They didn’t respond.
Some have wondered what he meant when he said he was different. Sheneen McClain said she thinks he was trying to tell police that he was not a “statistic Black individual” but someone who was living a good life and not harming anyone. She thinks what Elijah said to the officers was a way to try to reach out to their humanity and for her son to remember who he was because she believes he knew he was dying.