About three years ago, my son’s father sent me an article about a young man named Elijah McClain. There was a list of reasons this story connected with us: the unease of everyday interactions and experiences that our son will have made us agonize about his future. He had explained to me how the story had made him feel. I understood his feelings because his concerns reflected my own. We both struggled with fear of the circumstances surrounding Elijah’s story—anger because of the lack of responsibility and accountability of the people involved, sadness because his life seemed to hold no value to the justice that it deserved.

McClain’s story did not focus on the fact that he was Autistic because the focus was on the brutality and injustice at the hands of the police and paramedics. However, I want to draw attention to this for my readers’ awareness. 

Elijah Mcclain was a young man who lived with Autism, but he didn’t allow Autism to stop him from living. He worked as a massage therapist, had a soft heart for animals, and often entertained them with his musical talent at local animal shelters. His friends and loved ones described him as odd but gentle. 

Events of August 25th, 2019

On August 25, 2019, he was walking home from a convenience store wearing a ski mask and flailing his arms. His movement and ski mask caught the attention of an on-looker who called 911 to report that McClain looked “sketchy.” The police responding to the call approached Elijah, distracted; he did not hear them calling to him. The officers were unaware of Elijah’s condition and felt his behavior and appearance were suspect and threatening; their treatment of him reflected this idea. They eventually retrained him while grappling him to the pavement, placing him in a chokehold. Elijah pleaded, tried to tell them he had done nothing wrong, and communicated what he could, trying to connect with what ounce of humanity that cops had; he fell unconscious.

 “I’m an introvert; please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.” “And while being choked, he uttered the all too familiar, “I CAN’T BREATHE.” Before losing consciousness, his last words were, ” I am different.” (Williams, 2021)

To add further disdain for McClain’s life, when the paramedics arrived at the site, they overdosed Elijah with a drug known as Ketamine. Ketamine is a medication used to induce anesthesia and relieve pain. I find it interesting that this would be the drug of choice; aside from sedation, Ketamine can also have the effects of incapacitation and memory loss associated with use.

 After reading the article, I thought- who should be the one to blame for ending this young man’s life? The caller for misjudgment? The cops for mishandling the situation? The paramedics for negligence? Or McClain for wearing the ski mask? The truth is, McClain may not have known how he would be perceived; neither did Trevon Martin and his hoodie. He also may not have known how to handle this in this situation. Listening to the recording, you could hear the fear in his voice. The cops outnumbered him. As I recollect, was McClain that much of a threat that he deserved the harsh treatment of the cops? His image sets in motion the events of August 24, 2019. What other senses were activated, such as the sense of smell? The police did not listen to him. They did not even show him an ounce of compassion. He already had a target on his back; this truth is demoralizing.

Takeaway from Elijah’s story

 My takeaway from the article is to be mindful of my biases and prejudices. No one person is exempt from this lesson. How can we, as a nation and community, change this narrative? What if employers in servicing fields understood how they could influence change in this area and shift how people think about the community and the people they serve? What if schools challenge their students on these topics? What if, as parents of children with high-functioning Autism, we have conversations about race, bias, and prejudices? We could better prepare them for a world where discrimination and ignorance are part of the human experience.

This last thought breaks my heart because it reminds me of the painful truth: our survival and freedom depend on the probability of conforming somehow, and if we don’t look threatening, then we could be equals. Bias thinking is created by learning from the environment and surroundings. It is important to unlearn and interrupt what we think we understand. I encourage readers to live in a state of consciousness, becoming aware that their biases are the birthplace of prejudice. Many lives end at the hands of another because of how someone looks, leaving us blind and unable to discern whether something or someone is a threat. 


Ps. Reader, I would like to leave with a quote by Michelle Obama. The ending is crucial because it is not limited to race but to us all, no matter who we are.

I can’t make people not afraid of black people. I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t explain what’s happening in your head. But maybe if I show up every day as a human, a good human, doing wonderful things, loving my family, loving your kids, taking care of things that I care about—maybe, just maybe that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination. Maybe that slowly will unravel it. That’s all we have, because we can’t do it for them, because they’re broken. Their brokenness in how they see us is a reflection of this brokenness. And you can’t fix that. All you can do is the work.” 


Killing of Elijah McClain. (2024, January 14). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_Elijah_McClain

Igoe, K. J. (2021, April 29). Black Lives Matter Quotes That Are Powerful, Informative, and Necessary. Marie Clarie. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a32823549/black-lives-matter-quotes/

Williams, F. E., Dr (n.d.). Autism Awareness Month – Remembering Elijah McClain. Seattle Medium. https://seattlemedium.com/autism-awareness-month-remembering-elijah-mcclain/

Davis, K., FNP (2023, July 25). What are the uses of Ketamine? Medical News Today. Retrieved February 3, 24, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302663