AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — What started as a peaceful protest over the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police isn’t remembered for the chorus of violins or the speeches calling for reform. It was overshadowed by a clash between police and a part of the crowd.
“The perimeter started getting pushed back a lot. Things started happening quickly,” said Gabriel A. Lavine with the Afro Liberation Front. “It didn’t really make any sense to me why the force was brought out.”
Aurora Police Department Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson sat down with the FOX31 Problem Solvers to explain some of the tactics used by APD.
“There were many many people there who were doing the right thing and protesting peacefully, but there were a faction of agitators that came with pipes and sticks and helmets and gas masks and face shields,” Wilson said.
Wilson says about 50 people tried to provoke police, tearing down barriers that surrounded the department, and throwing rocks and water bottles.
The interim chief also mentioned how some in the crowd brought guns, and while open carry is lawful in Aurora’s jurisdiction, she said it changed the approach for police tactics, out of fear someone may get hurt.
“I’m sure that people were confused, and a lot of people of people saying, ‘No,’ when they saw the riot police, and I understand that and I sympathize with that. But it really was us trying to separate that peaceful group from the people that were coming with and throwing rocks and creating havoc,” Wilson said.
The protesters’ perspective tells a different story, as cellphone video captured moments of police beating people with batons, rollings smoke devices into a crowd and using pepper spray and foam projectiles on people who were actively retreating.
“The energy I got from them is they wanted a riot and they wanted violence,” said one protester who wanted to remain anonymous. “The police presence was very disheartening, especially given what we were protesting.”
“We were there, we saw it, we all recorded it, and we’re going to continue screaming about it until you listen,” Lavine said.
APD is reviewing body camera footage, but released an edited clip showing some of the encounters. The department says they had more than 50 officers with 2-3 hours of footage each to go through, and are working on a way to release the hundreds of hours of footage to the Problem Solvers.
Wilson believes her officers acted within the department’s use-of-force guidelines.
“All indication is that everything was lawful. The only time they responded to force was when they were taking a rock or hit with something, or when someone was trying to take a baton,” Wilson said.