Armed officers in Colorado used tear gas against protesters this weekend, as thousands attended a vigil for Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old who died after police put him in a chokehold that has since been banned.
Riot police arrived at the City Centre Park in Aurora, Colorado, on Saturday night where thousands had marched and chanted some hours earlier.
Others played violins in tribute to McClain, a keen musician, during the day-long vigil.
But as evening neared on Saturday police warned demonstrators that the protest had become an “illegal gathering”, reported The Denver Post.
One protester could be heard saying “no, no, no” as riot police advanced on the violin vigil whilst music played. Others chanted: “Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see no riot here!”
Video posted online showed police clash with protesters who had been sat in silence while violins played amid the disturbance. Some were said to have thrown stones and bottles at police.
Another video showed demonstrators lock arms with one another to shield the musicians from riot police, who later said that peppery spray had been used to clear the park.
“Pepper spray was used after a small group of people gathered rocks [and] sticks, knocked over a fence, & ignored orders to move back,” said the Aurora police department in a statement, adding that “tear gas was not used”
Although police were said to have cleared City Centre Park on Saturday, some protesters continued to move on to a car park where one violinist played to a small audience at dusk.
Authorities also said that “three people were taken into custody for violating lawful orders after warnings were given”.
Yesterday Aurora, Colorado was holding a violin vigil for Elijah McClain, who was known for playing his violin, especially to animals.
Then the police decided they’d seen enough.pic.twitter.com/aujN7xxpAQ
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash)
One protester condemned police actions, and wrote on Twitter: “Yesterday Aurora, Colorado was holding a violin vigil for Elijah McClain, who was known for playing his violin, especially to animals.”
“Then the police decided they’d seen enough. Police then used pepper spray to clear the park. There were families and kids out in Aurora. It was literally just a violin vigil for Elijah”, they added.
Protesters also shut down an Interstate highway on Saturday as they marched for McClain, whose death has come scrutiny since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody last month.
Some 4 million people have now signed an online petition calling on authorities in Aurora to “bring justice for Elijah” through “a more in-depth” investigation.
Colorado governor Jared Polis ordered the state attorney general to investigate McClain’s case on Thursday amid continued protests.
“Elijah McClain should be alive today,” said attorney general Phil Weiser in a statement on Thursday. “His life mattered and his death was tragic. The pain, frustration, and anger that his family and many Coloradans are feeling from his death is understandable and justified.”