Violin Vigil for Elijah McClain Interrupted by Riot Police

June 28, 2020, 10:49 PM · String players who traveled from all over the U.S. to Aurora, Colo. for a violin vigil and peaceful protest over the death of Elijah McClain were met with police in riot gear, attacking people with tear gas and pepper spray Saturday.

Aurora protest
Violinist Jeff Hughes plays Saturday during the vigil for Elijah McClain. Photo by Giles Clasen.

Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old massage therapist who played the violin, was walking home from a convenience store last August in Aurora, Colo., when police stopped him, then tackled him and put him in a carotid hold. He was unarmed and had committed no crime. McClain was taken to the hospital, suffering a heart attack on the way. He died several days later.

Saturday's gathering at a park in Aurora's Municipal Center "was a peaceful protest, with people carrying violins and cellos, playing in honor of Elijah McClain," said Joy Adams, a cellist who traveled from Boulder to play during the vigil. "There were children in the crowd, musicians playing, people holding candles and roses and sitting on the ground...We were playing Pachelbel's Canon, and the police went nuts -- beating people with batons and spraying tear gas in their faces."

Protests had begun earlier in the afternoon, and police arrived in riot gear just as the violin vigil was about to begin at 8:30 p.m.

"The protest became even more confusing at about 9 p.m. when police commanded people to disperse, but then allowed them to reconvene in an adjacent parking lot for the violin vigil. More than 1,000 people remained as police observed and apparently backed off their demands to end the protest," according to the Aurora Sentinel.

"A call went out for bowed instrument players to come to Aurora's City Center Park for an improvised, peaceful jam to honor and grieve the senseless loss of Elijah McClain," said arts journalist John Moore on his Facebook page.

Violin Vigil

"But just before the scheduled 8:30 start time, pepper spray was deployed, followed by rows of Aurora police in riot gear methodically moving the hundreds who had spread out all over the lawn in front of city hall toward an empty parking lot far from where a few dozen musicians bravely played, and played on," Moore said. "Thankfully, the police never went after the musicians themselves, but they incited unnecessary aggression and heightened tension (but no violence) from a crowd that wasn't there to make noise. They were there to listen. To music. But once provoked, the music became the soundtrack to an ugly conflict between art and authority."

"I attended what was to be a violin vigil for Elijah McClain in Aurora, Colorado tonight," said photographer Gile Clasen on his Facebook page. "I walked in with families and children. I believe we were all there to mourn and demand justice. Before the event could start the police, dressed in militaristic riot gear, created a line and demanded everyone leave."

Aurora Police
Aurora Police on Saturday at the vigil for Elijah McClain. Photo by Giles Clasen.

"I witnessed individuals pepper sprayed and hit with batons. I watched as the police pointed their weapons toward the crowd," Clasen said. "Before it was over, Jeff Hughes stood on a truck and played his violin. Later, Ashanti Floyd 'The Mad Violinist' and Lee England Jr. lead us all while a police helicopter hovered over the group. Their rendition of 'Killing Me Softly' was haunting and beautiful. This is what we were there to do, listen to amazing musicians and mourn in community. When the police stopped pushing the group - there was peace and chanting and crying. We came to a vigil in peace. The violence was never necessary. Not to Elijah McClain, not tonight not to so many others."


June 29, 2020 at 05:00 AM · If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of protests, or that there are two equivalent moral sides to this, I suggest you watch the video of Elijah McClain being murdered and his last words.

You can get murdered doing everything right, being someone who won't eat meat out of ethical concern, being an artist, volunteering with animals, just walking down the street at night, all for being black.

If you were ever not on board, because you couldn't relate to all the victims of police violence and racism, then here you have your poster-child.

June 29, 2020 at 01:26 PM · Unfortunately, this Rioting of police is happening all over the place and I am amazed that it is not gathering national attention. Here in Richmond it has been 30 days of consecutive days of peaceful protests. No rioting, no looting, no criminality on the protest side. On the police side, they are met by riot police in full body armor aiming and firing all sorts of things at protesters. We have had people sprayed directly in the face and shot with rubber bullets (including reporters identifying themselves clearly). Tear gas, helicopters, military style tanks is an almost nightly occurrence here. Police come in, declare an "unlawful assembly" and riot. Sometimes they don't declare an "unlawful assembly" first, which by the way doesn't mean anything except they would like protesters gone at this point. The ACLU here has sued over infringement of the 1st amendment right of free speech, press and assembly. Many people have stopped partaking in protests out of fear, this is especially true for families with children. There is a dedicated group that is continuing. Traditional media coverage on the national level of this police response is largely absent (and on a local level very general, like "police pushed back protesters" - with the exception of some social media outlets) There was an article in NY magazine recently about it: I am disappointed that we are not seeing conscientious objectors within the police ranks.

June 29, 2020 at 04:11 PM · Your Aurora police has been militarized to an astounding degree and is trained to make war on the protesters or any assembly of people outside that the policemen do not like! Dangerous shift! Clearly above the law!

June 29, 2020 at 04:59 PM · Should a police officer even want to stand as a conscientious

objector, or express solidarity with someone else just hinting at a peaceful showing, that officer will be taking on more danger and threat than his 'normal job' entails.

The Blue Band of Brothers has had decades to get stronger and more powerful. Vast amounts of money and time to bake racism and hatred and corruption into the foundations of 'policing' has insured each new recruit, each year, sell some part of their soul - give up some part of their ideals - to get along with those brothers and sisters they must work under, or with.

And these last 3 years have hardened police hearts even harder. Any officer wanting to help change things to benefit all people will be taking on the most difficult yet most important efforts in his/her life. Bless any & all who take this stand whether with the police or just a citizen!

Our country needs all peaceful actions possible, so thank you.

Violinists and other musicians, your talented, loving, bravery is inspirational!

June 29, 2020 at 05:10 PM · "I am disappointed that we are not seeing conscientious objectors within the police ranks."

If you've never witnessed a full-on police riot, it's hard to believe they occur. I watched one from my dorm window, decades ago, and it changed my life. We don't see conscientious objectors because few officers are willing to give up their careers and pensions to challenge a policy their peers and employers are fully on board with. It's easier to be a conscientious objector from the military than from a corrupt, violent, white-supremacist police force.

June 29, 2020 at 06:39 PM · So sad and infuriating. A solidarity event I helped put together in Los Angeles was completely peaceful, with socially distaned musicans and a multi-racial crowd, many of whom were crying and deeply moved as we all comforted each other. As far as I could tell, had no police presence at all. I was very grateful for that.

June 29, 2020 at 08:30 PM · We have the right to assemble, we have the right to protest, we have the right to speak unpopular or popular things. Enough is enough.

June 29, 2020 at 11:19 PM · Please pay attention to the police brutality in Richmond Virginia. Every night they are attacking peaceful protesters. This scene in Aurora has been happening for a month in Richmond, but we haven't had the beautiful background music. If anybody wants to come join us we'll protect our musicians just like you did.

June 30, 2020 at 12:07 AM · Police rioting is far from new - I remember seeing it up close during protests against the war in Viet Nam half a century ago. What is different now, is that the protests are continuing, and building, and have the support of most of the people in this country. Blessings on everyone who is participating in these peaceful protests, you may yet save this country from ruin. We do need to push the press to continue to cover the protests.

June 30, 2020 at 01:52 AM · We don't need public safety, we need a safer public.

June 30, 2020 at 05:10 AM · I agree. The protests are continuing, and there is something different this time.

June 30, 2020 at 06:47 AM · Why do we have these rights but yet no rights like freedom of speech, a protest that is peaceful? There is most definitely something very wrong with our police forces in America. Police literally getting off scott free when everyone knows they are guilty of murder!! Especially our black men. I live in Denver and this all just has to stop????

June 30, 2020 at 07:08 AM · This problem isn't just limited to the United States. How about the worst mass shooting in recent history possibly perpetrated by Canada's national police service? The police are now a threat to public safety.

June 30, 2020 at 07:55 AM · I remember the Seattle Tac Squad was formed to confront us Vietnam War protestors. As we stood in front of SeaFirst Bank that was funding the war, the Squad lined up to defend the bank, before they broke and hunted us down with teargas. The function of police has always been to defend the wealthy from the masses.

June 30, 2020 at 04:42 PM · Someone should re-create that iconic image of a peaceful protester placing the stem of a flower in the rifle’s barrel, but with the violin’s bow in the rifle’s barrel.

June 30, 2020 at 10:25 PM · "The barbarians were kind of a solution..."- some poem

June 30, 2020 at 10:46 PM · The image of the violinists at the peaceful protest will remain with me forever. There is a gofundme campaign for the family of Elijah at

July 1, 2020 at 01:28 AM · Thank you Laurie for publishing this important piece. We are all involved in the nation issues whether we sit back and do nothing or turn up like this beautiful peaceful initiative. May arts re-ignite the conscience of the world.

July 1, 2020 at 09:57 AM · These riot police should have a clearly identifiable number on their uniform. Otherwise, what is to stop people who are not officially police from dressing up and pretending to be police and then causing a lot of trouble?

These are trying times where police do find themselves in difficult circumstances. In the midst of a pandemic with an extremely infectious virus, they also have a duty to try to prevent people from assembling in crowds. Though, clearly the use of pepper spray and rubber bullets is unacceptable if used against peaceful protestors.

July 1, 2020 at 10:02 AM · Thank you for posting this. What happened to Elijah McClain was a violation of his civil rights. The police conduct was disgusting. Ms. McClain could have been my son. He did nothing wrong. All of this violence must stop. White Americans must voice their outrage and say no more.

And the police forces in the United States have to learn de-escalation Politicians that tolerate police attacking peaceful protestors should be voted out of office.

We have to take our country back from the red necks and racists. Enough is enough.

July 1, 2020 at 11:55 AM · I struggle to grasp the logic: People in different venues who go to great lengths to produce ensembles online are commended, yet when others crowd together, completely ignoring social distancing, and those who even bother to wear masks wear the same mask for too long to really protect others, setting at risk not so much themselves (and the risks to health even there seem to be higher than before anticipated) as the vulnerable in their communities, it is described as "peaceful" - I suppose it was "peaceful" of Chinese officialdom to stamp on early reports of the virus so it would spread to the West?

Mind you, I expect the Police care about the additional coronavirus fatalities brought about by this demonstration approximately as much as Judas cared for the poor!

I'm sorry, this goes against the grain, but I think it has to be said.

I should add that the family of Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody in Kirkcaldy with horrific injuries in 2015, asked, in view of COVID-19, for all demonstrations to be virtual - I think their example is one to be followed.

July 1, 2020 at 03:45 PM · Our nation is at war within. I am flabbergasted, out right ANGRY, for the lack of respect for life. This must stop. I had said is time to arm ourselves with our deserved truth and Fight.

Today African Americans, tomorrow Latinos,LGBTQ and who knows what's next. Our environment, endangered species, the name calling from OUR leader, has been a disgrace to our NATION, and the world. HE MUST BE FIRED. Sorry I needed to say something. The police has been called against me playing my violin in my front porch by someone with same idealistic GARBAGE..Peace my friends, and sorry needed to vent. Feddie.

July 1, 2020 at 06:58 PM · Jim, it's clear that you don't know what you are talking about. Antifa is not a formal group, so it's disingenuous for the police chief to SPECULATE about the motives of individual protestors because they are wearing garb to protect them from the tear gassing they are about to get. The fact that you defer to the police chief's "account" in this case should be enough to get you kicked off any jury, but unfortunately, your blind credulity would actually be more likely to get you seated.

Per the police chief, it started with the great police battle for the fence, where police started getting aggressive with certain protestors for not protesting within the exact prescribed area, and then frames it as the protestors attacking.

I'm not sure why you would emphasize Antifa when Fa is right there beating people and shooting them with chemical weapons.

July 2, 2020 at 01:35 AM · Below is the text of my 7-1-2020 comment that members Christian Lesniak and David Allen responded to or alluded to. For some unknown reason, my entry vanished sometime between 7-5 and 7-7 -- after comments were closed. I don't recall deleting it. I informed Laurie, the site editor, of this situtation. I had saved a copy of it before originally posting it. So that the connection isn't lost, and so that anyone reading this page later will know what Christian and David are responding to, I'm reproducing the text here.

[BEGIN TEXT.] I notice, when these blogs deal with emotional or controversial subjects, that a lot of commenters are anonymous. Whether these subjects just happen to draw a lot of members, or whether a lot of members opt to hide their identities by not logging on -- I don't know. But I strongly suspect the latter -- in light of some sweeping, over-the-top remarks above: "Your Aurora police has been militarized … to make war on the protesters or any assembly … that the policemen do not like!" "Vast amounts of money and time to bake racism and hatred and corruption into the foundations of 'policing' … [a]nd these last 3 years have hardened police hearts even harder.""It's easier to be a conscientious objector from the military than from a corrupt, violent, white-supremacist police force." "The function of police has always been to defend the wealthy from the masses."

I see a veiled attempt to link Trump to police brutality -- "these last 3 years" -- plus attempts to play the white-supremacy and class-envy cards.

As a two-time trial juror, I know all too well the value of hearing both sides of a case and NOT rushing to judgment. Check out this clip I found on YouTube earlier today [7-1-2020] when I searched on the words "violin vigil" -- run time: 4:26.

Aurora Police chief says officers were going after Antifa in protests, not violinists [END TEXT.]


@Christian: Did you actually listen to the whole 4-1/2-minute video I linked? I do know what I'm talking about. I have not deferred "to the police chief's 'account' in this case." The "account" is by no means the end of the story. Still, whether or not it fits the mainstream media's narrative, it demands a fair hearing so that, let us hope, it can be corroborated or debunked. If I were a juror in a case like this -- or any other case -- I would expect to hear from both sides, weigh the testimony and evidence, and then decide, at end of jury deliberation, which way to vote. To be sure, the police sometimes do get things wrong -- or remember things wrong -- as in the criminal case I heard. The state blew it. We unanimously acquitted the defendant.

@Federico: You mentioned "the name calling from OUR leader." Give us, please, one (1) example of this. And give us, if possible, a link to the original source that quotes the specific words used.

July 2, 2020 at 03:39 AM · I heard the whole video. The chief made up a nebulous boogeyman called "antifa" to be able to blame for a bunch of police in riot gear trying their best to start a riot. As the person speaking after the police chief goes on to say, the situation only de-escalated when the police in their battle armor stood down. If I'm having a BBQ and a gang comes armed to the teeth and stands watch over my BBQ to make sure that I don't step over an imaginary line in the sand, then who made the trouble when a fight breaks out? The police chief is going to spin it the way that police have been spinning these kinds of things for years - How can you get both sides when one side has not only all the incentive, but the history to spin the narrative in bad faith?

Listening to the police propaganda is not getting anything close to facts or impartiality - Often, news stations are happy to regurgitate the official line, because it saves them from having to think or do some investigating, but they did pretty good. Kyle Clark is a pretty nuanced anchor for a local news station.

If facts in a court case can truly be impartially submitted, then sure, but part of the problem is the automatic deference that the word of police has had in courtrooms and beyond them, with little room for examining the inherent biases and incentives that police have to cover their tails.

July 3, 2020 at 05:22 AM · I am appalled to see the recent politicization of what was once a refuge focused on the art of music. Since it seems to being encouraged, I will respond.

There is much disinformation being disseminated regarding what is going on across our nation and who did what to whom and who started it. It seems to be propagated without critical analysis by both those with an agenda and those who are simply naive. Many folks seem to be taking sides based on hearsay and incomplete information. Nothing good ever comes of dismissing one side of an argument out of hand. I will fault the video in Laurie's article for not being helpful. It shows riot police but it doesn't show them doing anything other than walking. No commands are heard, no tear gas can be seen, and what they might be responding to cannot be seen either, It's only purpose can be to inflame those whose mind is already made up or, to look at it cynically, to generate hits for monetization of the site. It is violin related but only in the most superficial of ways.

Elijah McClain has been invoked so I will respond do that as well. Those who claim he was doing nothing wrong are not viewing the videos with an unbiased eye. Upon initial contact with an officer he immediately disobeyed a lawful order. At that point, he made himself exactly what the 911 caller claimed: suspicious. He then exacerbated the issue by physically resisting. So, he was indeed "doing something wrong".

Lastly, I will add that I think Mr. Hastings has made some cogent points and I would urge others to gather more facts and think more deeply before dismissing others' reasoning.

July 3, 2020 at 05:27 AM · I will also add it is true that news reports are often agenda driven or just plain wrong and it is up to us to vet their veracity.

July 3, 2020 at 05:14 PM · This is all so....utterly, horribly, heartbreaking...and needless!!

July 6, 2020 at 02:39 AM · Not so sure that the stand down was what de-escalated the situation. “Stand down” often enables violent situations to get out of control.

And I'm not so sure that the police were the ones "trying their best to start a riot." Agitators will often infiltrate hordes of "peaceful protesters" and use these hordes as cover while they incite trouble. Although some agitators are no doubt hoping to incite the police, we also have to consider the main audience that they're playing to -- an audience of their peers. Then, too, there's all the media attention they know they'll get.

Listen to what Sheriff David Clarke had to say on the matter of anti-police bias and anti-police rhetoric. Run time: 7:13.

July 18, 2020 at 04:10 AM · Editor-In-Chief Justin Dwayne Joseph posted this report, speaking to three violinists who were at the Aurora violin vigil for Elijah McClain. They share their eyewitness accounts, as well as their thoughts about what happened.

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