Last August, unarmed 23-year-old Elijah McClain was killed by police in Aurora, Colo., while walking home from a convenience store. In June, a group of protesters gathered in Aurora to protest McClain's death and honor his life with a peaceful violin vigil. From there, things escalated...
In this Heavy Rotation special report, violinists/activists Lee England, Ashanti Floyd and Jeff Hughes discuss what happened on-the-ground in Aurora during last month's protest and the violin vigil and how it went from peaceful to problematic.
Hosted by GRAMMY.com Editor-In-Chief Justin Dwayne Joseph, Heavy Rotation is an on-going series that features a rotating panel of music creators and professionals that represent minority and marginalized communities tackling a series of hard-hitting topics impacting the industry at large. In this episode, Joseph discusses what happened the day of the violin vigil with England, Floyd and Hughes and how the moment fits into the larger movement.
Hughes, a violinist who was on the front lines of the protest and vigil, shared his experience of using music to diffuse the situation when police stepped in, seemingly determined to escalate the situation by deeming it an unlawful asssembly. In his first time speaking publically about the incident, Hughes opened up about how music has given him a voice to fight back and how important it is for protestors to stay involved. He also provided his reaction to what Aurora police claimed were dissentors in the crowd that day provoking the use of force.
Similarly for violinist/producers England and Floyd, watching a peaceful musical tribute to McClain's life escalate into confrontation left a lasting impression. They both spoke frankly about what they saw and how they felt the situation could have been handled differently to produce a different outcome. They also shared their perspective and experience in Aurora has prompted them to continue their protests around the country.
Collectively, the group addressed why they feel McClain's case and the subsequent musical component of both his life and the confrontation with police resonated with so many people around the country and the world.
The group also discussed what really happened during the vigil as a peaceful musical tribute to McClain turned into clouds of tear gas, the threat of rubber bullets and chaotic confrontation. Joseph also asked the musicians what non-Black allies can do to contribute ("Show up," as England sumarized), how the musicians approach criticism for taking a social or political stance on what they believe, what can be done to create meaningful change from this situation and much more.
Watch the full episode above to hear the entire, in-depth discussion.