In the early hours of Sunday morning, 26-year-old Jemel Roberson was working security at a bar in the Chicago suburbs when a shooting broke out. Shortly after Roberson subdued the suspect at gunpoint, police arrived — and fatally shot the armed security guard as he pinned the suspect to the ground.
Roberson was working at Manny’s Blue Room Bar, in Robbins, Illinois, when security personnel asked a group of men to leave following an argument. Soon after, at least one man returned to the bar and began shooting, injuring some of the people in the bar. Security returned fire and Roberson detained the man.
Roberson “had somebody on the ground with his knee in back, with his gun in his back, like, ‘Don’t move,’” witness Adam Harris told local news outlet WGN.
When police arrived, an officer immediately opened fire, killing Roberson, as witnesses told them to stop. “Everybody was screaming out, ‘Security!’ He was a security guard,” Harris said.
“They still did their job, and saw a black man with a gun, and basically killed him,” he added.
Four other people, including a man believed to be the suspect behind the bar shooting, were injured in the incident. The suspect’s name has not been released publicly and he has not been charged yet, Sophia Ansari, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN.
Officers from the Robbins and Midlothian police departments responded to the shooting and have offered few details in the days since. On Tuesday, Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney issued a statement calling Roberson “a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation.”
“The Midlothian Police Department is completely saddened by this tragic incident and we give our heartfelt condolences to Jemel, his family and his friends. There are no words that can be expressed as to the sorrow his family is dealing with,” Delaney added. He told the Chicago Tribune that the department will release another statement on the shooting “after the agency concluded its inquiry and ‘all of the facts’ are known.”
The investigation into Roberson’s shooting will be handled by an Illinois State Police task force. “It is the policy of the Midlothian Police Department to utilize the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force for any officer-involved shootings so we can ensure transparency and maintain public trust,” the police department said. NBC News reports that the officer who shot Roberson has been placed on administrative leave. The officer’s name has not been released, but the Chicago Tribune reports that the officer has been with the department for several years.
News of Roberson’s shooting comes amid a national conversation about racial disparities in police violence, and how it affects black men and women. The shooting also calls attention to the dangers black gun owners face when interacting with police.
As the shooting unfolded, Roberson was a “good guy with a gun.” It didn’t matter.
The shooting has prompted confusion and anger among those who knew Roberson. “How in the world does the security guard get shot by police?” asked Walter Turner, a pastor at Chicago’s New Spiritual Light Baptist Church, one of several churches where Roberson assisted as a musician, during an interview with ABC7 Chicago. “A young man that was literally doing his job and now he’s gone.”
Others who knew Roberson say that the shooting reinforces their belief that police are too quick to use force. “It’s the continued narrative that we see of shoot first, ask questions later,” said Rev. LeAundre Hill of Purposed Church, another church where Roberson assisted, told WGN.
A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, which is assisting with investigating the initial bar shooting, said that Roberson had a valid firearm owners ID card, but did not have a concealed carry license.
NBC News reports that Roberson’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Monday. The suit was filed by Roberson’s mother and names the village of Midlothian and the unnamed officer as defendants. The lawsuit says that the shooting was “excessive and unreasonable,” and seeks more than $1 million in damages.
Roberson’s death is the latest incident in recent years where a black gun owner was fatally shot by police. In July 2016, after telling a Minnesota police officer that he was carrying a legal firearm when he was pulled over, Philando Castile was shot while reaching for his wallet.
In July, Harith Augustus, a black barber working in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, was shot by Chicago police after an officer stopped the man and questioned him for “exhibiting characteristics of an armed person.” Video showed Augustus attempting to show an officer what appeared to be an Illinois firearm owner’s ID, before being startled by an officer attempting to grab him from behind.
ThinkProgress’s Lindsay Gibbs notes that Roberson’s death suggests that the calls for more armed guards that so often emerge after mass shootings carry a unique risk for black people. “Roberson was both an armed security guard and a good guy with a gun. He risked his life to apprehend a shooter. And police killed him anyway,” Gibbs writes.
Patricia Hill, another pastor at Purposed Church, said that Roberson wanted to become a police officer, calling it a tragedy that he was killed in a police shooting. “He was getting ready to train and do all that stuff, so the very people he wanted to be family with, took his life.”