Editor’s note: On 9/1/21, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced that a statewide grand jury indicted two Aurora Police officers, one former officer, and two Aurora Fire Department paramedics in the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. Each of the defendants involved in McClain’s death will face one charge of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, plus multiple assault charges.
It took Shannah Wischik 15 minutes to write 141 words. She composed them late one night last summer from her home in Seattle, under the dimmed lights of her kitchen table overlooking her children’s backyard play set. She wrote the words with a fine-tipped, blue ink pen on white printer paper. Wischik was exhausted that evening—mentally, physically, emotionally. Three young children and a pandemic will do that. Some nights, from a mile away, she could hear the echoes of flash-bang grenades launched at people protesting the police in her city. She held her children tightly in those times, not because she feared for their immediate safety, but because she worried about their futures.
She was 42, a former financial reporter turned stay-at-home mother. If you ask, she’ll say it was an Instagram post urging people to write to Colorado’s governor that made her slip that letter into an envelope. She’d never heard of Jared Polis before June 2020. But Wischik had spent several days learning about the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man from Aurora, Colorado. His story was only now becoming known amid the wave of protests nationwide over the country’s ongoing epidemic of police brutality against Black men and women.
There had been so much to understand about McClain’s life and death, not the least of which were the awful details of that night on August 24 in Aurora, when he was walking home from a convenience store with iced tea for a younger sibling. Wischik read that McClain had been wearing a ski mask because his anemia made his body run cold; that he was likely dancing to music on his phone; that someone saw a man in a mask, moving unevenly in the street, and that the person phoned the police. The call led to a violent takedown of the young man, which led to the large dose of ketamine that was injected into his body and ultimately induced a series of heart attacks that ended his life a week later.
Wischik never got through the audio recording of the police encounter from that night—of McClain politely begging for his life. She knew McClain was a masseur, that he played his violin for shelter cats, that he was different. His death haunted her, as it did the tens of thousands of people who were posting about it on their social media feeds. Wischik, who is white, knew she couldn’t fully know what it was like to be Elijah McClain’s mother. She wondered about the hurt Sheneen McClain was feeling, what it would be like to lose a child and never expect justice.
So, on a night in late June, with her children asleep, Wischik sat at her kitchen table and began to write.
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