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Wilson: It’s time to shine a light on our unconscious bias against Black people

I wish the nation paid attention to Aurora for other reasons than tragedy. As a resident, this modern city has so much to offer. We are one of the most diverse places in the country.  It is a diverse city with over 381,000 residents, a rising median income and over 160 languages spoken. 

But, it seems that not since the Century 16 shooting in 2012 has the country paid this much attention to Aurora. In fact, mention Aurora, Colorado, to virtually anyone outside of Colorado, and this attack is the first thing that comes to mind. 

Theo Wilson

That was true until the growing furor over the death of Elijah McClain made it to the mainstream headlines. The petition demanding justice for Elijah has received over three and a half million signatures thus far, and climbing by the day. 

As a Black man who has survived violent police encounters, I always wonder about the morning these victims of police violence woke up. On Aug. 24, 2019, what did Elijah McClain have for breakfast? Did he go on YouTube and look up cuddly cat videos? Did he practice the violin, not knowing that it would be his last time?  

Like so many others, he had no idea that his death would make him a national figure, and that he would not live to see the world love him. I can’t help but wonder if our paths crossed. Did I pass him in the Aurora Mall in the food court, and nod “what’s up” to him? 

There’s an empty space in the air of the planet that he should be occupying.  Every cubic centimeter, filled with his humanity. The kind of humanity that is only recently being globally proclaimed as … mattering.  

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A Black life like his, and like mine, is always mentally running through the scenarios of how we could prematurely be no more. Doubtlessly, Elijah McClain had heard about Trayvon Martin, and Botham Jean. If you asked him who Sandra Bland and Michael Brown were, he’d most likely be able to tell you without hesitation. 

Then, he joined them, just like that. The nightmare scenario played out in real life, ending his. He wore a mask in public a year before everyone else had to, and the police were called. He was dancing, and someone said he looked “sketchy.”  

Holding a grocery bag while confronted by Aurora police, he told the officers he was an introvert, and that he was just going home. Then, a carotid choke, vomit, crying and ketamine. Dislodged body cams and disputing narratives. Ten months of grassroots effort, and no real legal action until the world cared. Gov. Jared Polis has appointed a special prosecutor to reopen the investigation.  

Here we are again, hoping for closure, and praying that justice is as blind as God appears to be, sometimes. As a new father, I wonder if He’s watching Black children as closely as the cops are. Frankly, I’m losing faith that He is.  

I’m not a religious man, and haven’t been for some time, but the difference in how Aurora police treated Elijah McClain and James Holmes could make the Pope an atheist, I swear.  

The former was a vegan who played the violin for animals he thought were lonely.  The latter slaughtered human beings as if they were animals. One is still alive, and it’s not the one who made angelic music. In a culture where the paintings of angels are white, and the devils are dark, is it any wonder the cops got this mixed up?  

It’s time to shine a light on our unconscious bias against Black people; African descendants who didn’t ask to be associated with this loaded English word. A word associated with negative, evil, scary and bad.  

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I wonder if the English language was a prison for us long before Cañon City or Riker’s Island. No wonder people struggle to associate the word “black” accompanied by “lives,” and “matter.” The cognitive dissonance is built into the language itself. Hopefully, Elijah can teach us the meaning.

They say the good die young. I’ll hold onto that for now. Maybe Aurora, Colorado, isn’t a stellar enough place for a soul like Elijah. So, I’ll look for him in the other Aurora, the borealis northern lights.

For the rest of us stuck on earth, the work is far from over.  


Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.


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