Black Nerds Aren’t Immune To Police Brutality

I love labeling myself a black nerd or a blerd.

I assiduously wear it as a badge of honor. That label, that honor means so much to me, that I have the words “Black Nerd” tattooed in the inner part of my upper right arm. It means a lot because it helps define who I am. But being a black nerd or being labeled as “different” isn’t based on love for comic books, or Star Wars, or classical music, or anime, or Game of Thrones or physics. No, it simply means that I have embraced my uniqueness. That I’m proud to be…different.

Not better; Not smarter; Just…different.

Credit: Richie Pope

And they can’t take this away from me. They can’t. Because if they do, then I’ve lost. I’ve lost my ability to be different. I’ve lost my ability to be who I am. Elijah McClain was different. He even said it right before his life was taken away from him.

“I’m just different.”

That’s what the 23-year-old Elijah McClain told the Aurora, Colorado police officers who stopped him while walking home from a convenience store last August. This was a defense mechanism. A tool, used by Elijah, to assure these malevolent white authority figures who were surrounding him that he was not a threat. That he was not a nuisance, looking to commit or just got finished committing nefarious, illegal activities. He assured the authority figures, who ultimately contributed to his death, that he was attempting, at all cost, to avoid any contentious confrontation.

He was just walking home, iced tea in hand, ski mask on face, hoping to quench his thirst and protect his health, which was vulnerable because of chronic conditions like asthma and anemia. It was the latter condition that made him cold enough, even on an August night, to head out in a coat and a ski mask. Also, it shouldn’t be lost on us the irony of Elijah wearing a mask to protect his health. A tactic that would be universally accepted months after his tragic demise.

So many racist factors contributed to his death. We often make fun of Karen or Ken and their perception of black people being inherently violent. We, as black folks, use their terror to our advantage to attain laughs. These laughs are needed, because they help overcome the pain and terror Karen and/or Ken use to destroy black lives with one simple phone call. Well, one simple phone call by Karen or Ken assisted in the destruction of Elijah’s life. A resident, who has thus far remained unnamed, called 911 because of the ski mask and because the youth was “waving his arms” and that he “looked sketchy.”

Elijah was a massage therapist who mellifluously played the violin for sheltered kittens on his lunch break because he thought the kittens were lonely. He was described as a “quirky young man, a pacifist, a vegetarian who enjoyed running and he was known to put a smile on everyone’s face”. And none of these cordial attributes stopped him from becoming a statistic. According to Mapping Police Violence, MORE THAN 1,000 UNARMED people died as a result of police harm between 2013 and 2019. About a third of them were black. About 17% of the black people who died as a result of police harm were unarmed, a larger share than any other racial group and about 1.3 times more than the average of 13%. Elijah McClain is forever immortalized in this statistic.

When the police arrived, and after Elijah pleaded with them, assuring them of his humanity, they still attempted to handcuff him. But Elijah found this unacceptable, perplexed as to why he was being put in handcuffs for committing no wrongdoing. After the police officers struggled to handcuff Elijah, they used a carotid hold, which often times restricts blood flow to the brain and can render the victim unconscious. This maneuver, which was later deemed unlawful by the local government (too late for Elijah), would later be reenacted for the purpose of shits and giggles by the police officers who detained and ultimately contributed to the murder of Elijah McClain.

“Three police officers in Aurora, Colo., were fired Friday for their links to a disturbing photo showing the gleeful reenactment of a chokehold at the site of Elijah McClain’s deadly arrest last summer.” – NY Daily News

Elijah’s black, nerdy pacifism relentlessly attempted to diffuse the situation, while fighting for his life. He again attempted to assure and remind the police officers who were wrongfully detaining him of his humanity. And became increasingly obvious that the distress, caused by domestic terrorism, generated irreversible effects. After officers restrained him on the ground, he vomited several times.

And he apologized for vomiting.


“I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to do that, I can’t breathe correctly,” he told the officers, as he struggled o catch his breath due to the sadistic chokehold that caused his chronic illnesses to flare up. When medical responders arrived, after about 15 minutes, paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative. Elijah went into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital. He died a few days later.

The injection of 500 milligrams of ketamine into his black bloodstream is draped in racist symbolism. From the 911 call, to the police officers, to the EMT unit that arrived on the scene, here are three examples that not only contributed to the death of Elijah, but grossly disregarded his health, his well being, his humanity and his life. Ketamine is a potent dissociative anesthetic, made for the users to feel detached from their own body.

According to NBC News, an Aurora preliminary review found that medics’ actions on the night police detained McClain, 23, were “consistent and aligned with our established protocols.” But some medical and legal experts worry that ketamine — or any form of an anesthetic — raises too many unknowns and that it should not be used to subdue someone in a police action.

This July 25, 2018 photo shows a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago. It was launched decades ago as an anesthetic for animals and people, became a potent battlefield pain reliever in Vietnam and morphed into the trippy club drug Special K. Now the chameleon drug ketamine is finding new life as an unapproved treatment for depression and suicidal behavior. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

“Why anyone would be giving ketamine in that circumstance is beyond me,” said neuroscientist Carl Hart, chair of Columbia University’s psychology department. “The major problem here is we should never be ordering any medication, and no one should be taking or given it against their will.”

Elijah McClain’s death hits home for me. Here he was, this vulnerable young man who did everything possible to be who he was and not compromise his uniqueness. And he tried to assure the racist storm that was blowing his way that his uniqueness was a not a threat. It didn’t work. It didn’t matter. And this makes me upset. It truly makes me upset.

I get upset thinking about my fellow black nerd, Elijah McClain.

I get that “I should’ve been there to protect him” feeling. Similar to how I felt about Trayvon Martin. Vulnerable young black bodies who lost white battling white suppression. I know I shouldn’t think like this. I know it’s unhealthy.

But shit, I can’t help it.

Leslie McLemore writes about a lot of different shit for Black With No Chaser. He is also the Takeaway Kang and is the father of two beautiful girls, one of which gets on every nerve he has. The other one is sweet. So, you know, balance. 

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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