October 1, 2023

I assiduously wear the Blerd moniker 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 defines me. It defines a lot of us. Blerds are different. That’s why we exist. It’s not just for the love of comic books, or Star Wars, or anime, or Lovecraft Country or astrophysics. Nah, it just means we embraced our uniqueness. That we’re proud to be…different.

Not better; Not smarter; Just…different.

Credit: Richie Pope

They can’t take that away from us. They can’t, no matter how hard they try. Because if they do, then we’re lost. We lost our ability to be different. We lost our ability to be us. Elijah McClain was different. He even said it right before his life was taken away.

“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 August of 2019. This proclamation was his truth. But it was also his defense mechanism. A tool, used by Elijah, to assure these malevolent 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 his body feel cold, even on an August night. Hence why he rocked 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 factors contributed to his death. We often make fun of Karen or Ken and their perception of black people being inherently violent. We 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 a young black male was wearing a a mask and “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. Around 17% of black folks 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, 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 blred humanity. But the officers restrained him, anyway. This restraint led to distress, which generated irreversible effects. He began to vomit. Then vomited, again. And again.

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 to catch his breath due to the chokehold, a 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 harmful American 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 McClain, 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 a lot of us. This vulnerable soul 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. That’s what makes me upset the most.

A grand jury finally indicted the three police officers and two paramedics who actively contributed to Elijah’s death. LaWayne Mosley, Elijah’s father, was asked if he felt the charges were a long time coming. He said, “Yes. Better late than never.”

Like Elijah’s father, 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 fought valiantly against America’s suppression.

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

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