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Young, Black security guard gunned down by cop

By Bryan Crawford, Contributing Writer | Last updated: Nov 20, 2018 - 9:53:24 PM

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Eric Russell speaks as protesters rally for Jemel Roberson on Nov. 13, outside the Midlothian Police Department in Midlothian, Ill. A suburban Chicago alderman called for prosecutors to investigate the fatal shooting of Black security guard Roberson by a White police offi cer outside the bar where the guard worked. Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP (r) Protesters rally for Jemel Roberson on Nov. 13, outside the Midlothian Police Department in Midlothian,

Jemel Roberson was doing his job protecting lives when police shot and killed him, angering a community that is demanding answers

CHICAGO—Multiple church leaders and other demonstrators gathered outside the Midlothian Police Department calling for the release of the name of the officer who shot and killed 26-year-old security guard Jemel Roberson outside of Manny’s Blue Room Lounge in suburban Robbins, Illinois, just outside Chicago. They also called on him to be fired at the Nov. 16 demonstration.

Jemel Roberson, an armed security guard who was shot and killed by police responding to a shooting at a suburban Chicago bar.
Just four days after 12 people were shot and killed inside the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, by an armed gunman, Mr. Roberson himself was killed Nov. 11 after subduing an individual who had just shot several people at the lounge after a fight had broken out inside. Mr. Roberson chased the individual, wrestled him to the ground and subdued him by placing a knee in his back while holding a gun in his hand. It is unclear if the gun was his, or if he’d taken it from the suspect.  But what is known is that Jemel Roberson was shot and killed by a White Midlothian police officer, one of many law enforcement officers responding to a shots fired, active shooter call. Mr. Roberson is Black.

According to the Midlothian Police Department, the man who shot Mr. Roberson has been a police officer for seven years, four of those in their department. He is also a leader of a SWAT team task force made up of police officers from Chicago and several other suburban municipalities.

Daniel Delaney, chief of the Midlothian Police Department, never responded to a request from The Final Call for comment but categorized the shooting in the media as, “the equivalent of a ‘blue on blue,’ friendly fire incident.” But according to Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church who helped organize the protest, that kind of language is generally only used during war.

“They only use terms like friendly fire in war. And first of all, it was not a blue on blue crime, it was a blue on Black crime. And it wasn’t friendly fire. Friendly fire is an accidental shooting,” said the activist priest.

“This officer pulled up, pulled out a gun, aimed it at Jemel, and shot him,” Father Pfleger told The Final Call. “There was a number of other police out there. Nobody else shot except this guy. What made him shoot and not anyone else? And I believe it was because of [Jemel’s] race,” he added.

Blaming the victim?

The pain that came from knowing Jemel Roberson—father of a nine-month-old son and who had just found out days earlier that his girlfriend was expecting their second child—was shot and killed by a police officer for simply doing his job as a security guard has been compounded by the way the Illinois State Police, who is investigating the shooting, has tried to suggest that Mr. Roberson’s death was his own fault.

“Upon his arrival, a Midlothian Police Officer encountered a subject in plain black clothing with no markings readily identifying him as a Security Guard, armed with a gun in the west parking lot. According to witness statements, the Midlothian officer gave the armed subject multiple verbal commands to drop the gun and get on the ground before ultimately discharging his weapon and striking the subject,” the Illinois State Police said in a press release.

“Failure to comply is something that we hear over and over again from police. But obviously, Jemel had no reason not to comply with law enforcement because he didn’t pose a threat and he had a suspect detained. Anything after that is speculation,” Texas-based civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the mother of Jemel Roberson’s son, and who also represents the family of Botham Jean who was shot and killed by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in his own apartment, told The Final Call.

“It would have been very dangerous for Jemel to have put the gun down onto, or near the suspect who had just shot into a bar; that wouldn’t have been a command that would’ve been reasonable to comply with … The people we’ve interviewed are saying it, was, ‘drop the gun—pop! pop! pop!’” Mr. Merritt added.

Eyewitnesses that night also claim that Mr. Roberson clearly identified himself as security. One of those is Dorian Myrickes who worked security with Mr. Roberson when the incident took place.

“Jemel said, ‘I’m security. You need to handcuff this guy, get him under control,’” Mr. Myrickes said, who himself was shot twice in the shoulder by the offender and was hospitalized. According to Mr. Myrickes’ eyewitness account, the officer who shot Roberson did so within five seconds, using an AR-15 assault rifle. According to Mr. Merritt and Mr. Myrickes, Jemel Roberson was wearing a hat and sweatshirt with the words “Security” emblazoned on it.

“The first shot goes in his leg. … Everybody’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa,’ and then he shoots him again. I saw Jemel get hit a second time in the side,” said Mr. Myrickes, adding, “When those shots rang out, everybody ran because we didn’t know who was shooting at first. You hear the, ‘Get on the ground! Boom boom boom!’ Everybody just kind of scattered. Then once they came along, they see Jemel dropping. Everybody was like, ‘That was security!’ One Black cop with glasses, he said, ‘Man, you didn’t have to do that. You didn’t have to do that. We know these guys. We told you they’re security.’”

Initial reports confirmed that Roberson was licensed to carry a firearm, but there was speculation that he may not have been licensed to work as an armed security guard for the lounge. However, Mr. Myrickes asserted that neither he nor Mr. Roberson were armed that night and says the gun Mr. Roberson was holding may not have been his own and could have been the weapon taken from the individual who committed the initial crime.

“Jemel and I weren’t armed that night. Jemel leaves his bulletproof vest and gun in the car,” Mr. Myrickes said. “Jemel may have had time to go get his gun out of his car when the fight started brewing, but he did everything right. He didn’t deserve to get shot.”

As for the failure of the police to release any information about the officer involved in the shooting, Mr. Merritt fears the same maneuver used by the Dallas Police Department, who kept the name of Amber Guyger secret for two days, is potentially being duplicated by the Midlothian Police Department.

“They refused to release Amber Guyger’s name, which gave her a chance to scrub the Internet and hide evidence. It’s exactly what’s going on here,” Mr. Merritt said outside the Midlothian Police Department, while stating that he knows the officer’s name and plans to release it Monday, November 19 if the police haven’t done it by then.


A life cut short

Those who knew Jemel say he was a nice young man who loved music and made money on the side sometimes playing piano and organ at different churches in the Chicago area. The loss of someone who had dreams of one day becoming a police officer, and whose primary focus before he was killed was to make enough money to buy his son lots of gifts for his first Christmas holiday, is another blow to the Black community who feel threatened by police violence daily.

“When I met him, Jemel was still learning to play the organ and piano; that was four years ago. Look at him now, he was playing everywhere,” Greg Chapman, a native of Baltimore who moved to Chicago four years ago, and who first met Mr. Roberson in church, told The Final Call. “He was just a fun young guy and all he wanted to do was get ahead in life … It’s really upsetting to know this police officer didn’t seem to give him any time to identify himself. All he saw was a Black man with a gun and he just assumed he was the culprit.”

Mr. Chapman added, “The shootings that have happened by police in the Black community, has really started to take a toll on our Black men; especially the ones who are trying to be successful. I feel like the police need to be policed. Something needs to be addressed in their training because it seems now that all they do is shoot first and ask questions later.”

Father Pfleger agreed. “We have too many law enforcement officers who enter scenes with bigotry and prejudice, number one, and number two, they go in with a warlike mentality,” he said. “When you come with a war mentality, and you come with the bigotry and stereotypes out there about Black men, this is how we keep ending up in this very same place, no matter how much conversation goes on.”

Father Pfleger added that on the heels of the guilty verdict of Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder in October for the 2014 killing of LaQuan McDonald, law enforcement can’t seem to approach any situation without using deadly force on Black men.

“With all of these supposed trainings and re-trainings that are happening in these police departments, the question becomes why is this still happening? My response is because we still have White police officers who have the same perception, mentality and beliefs about Black men, which is they’re dangerous, so police are afraid of them,” Father Pfleger said.

Amid calls for the release of the police officers name and his subsequent firing, attorney Lee Merritt will continue working on behalf of Avontae Boose, the mother of Jemel Roberson’s son, to seek justice for his killing.

“Our primary focus for the family is justice first. We’re conducting a parallel investigation to supplement the findings of the Illinois State Police, and we’re going to turn that evidence over to the State’s Attorney and the District Attorney’s office, so they can have a robust presentation for the grand jury that we hope will lead to a criminal indictment,” Mr. Merritt said.

“And only after there is a criminal indictment do we plan to move forward with a civil suit. The goal of the civil suit would be to hold the officer accountable, in addition to any policymakers from the mayor [of Midlothian] on down—who could have prevented this tragedy. We want to know who’s responsible for putting in policies that allows these kinds of things to happen.”