While gun violence in America has never exactly been a topic unaddressed in the media, the shooting of innocent people seems to be an increasingly prominent story in headline news. On Sunday, Jemel Roberson was shot and killed by police officers who arrived on the scene of a shooting. He had a gun pressed into the back of another man. The twist? Roberson was a security guard, doing his job, and doing it well. He had already apprehended the alleged shooter before police arrived at the bar where he worked. Roberson, in his security guard hat and uniform, was gunned down as bystanders—now witnesses—screamed that he was security.
Jemel Roberson was a 26-year-old black man working as a security guard at Manny's Blue Bar outside of Chicago, Illinois. He was a father making a living at a respectable job, and he saved the lives of other people. No one was fatally wounded during the incident that night. No one except for Roberson.
Is this an accident? A blunder? A mistake? A reaction of fear? A product of the pressure of the job? Perhaps there is another euphemism that can be used? Jemel Roberson was shot multiple times.
“The Midlothian Police Department is completely saddened by this tragic incident and we give our heartfelt condolences to Jemel, his family, and his friends,” The Police Chief in charge of the individual who shot Roberson said. “There are no words that can be expressed as to the sorrow his family is dealing with.”
A tragic incident. Our heartfelt condolences to Jemel. No words. The sorrow his family is dealing with.
The murder of black men in particular, and people of color as a whole, by the very people who are supposed to protect all individuals and all communities without discrimination is not a tragic incident. It is not an accident. It is not a blunder. It is not a mistake. It is not just a reaction of fear. It is not only a product of the pressure of a difficult job. It is the product of racism.
It is the product of deeply rooted racism in American society. Until that racism is named, understood, and addressed head on, Jemel Roberson will not be the last victim of a police shooting. He is certainly not the first.
When black men are perceived as a threat in any public space—in a car, in a neighborhood, at work—by police officers across the country, the killing of innocent black men must be addressed as an institutional problem. Murder must not be called “an incident,” because language matters. Condolences do nothing to bring someone back who has been killed; they do nothing to help heal communities or restore faith in the public servants who are supposed to be there to protect, not to kill, violate, or surveille.
The officer who shot Jemel Roberson was placed on administrative leave, according to USA Today. His name has not yet been released to the public. In the past, police officers involved in the shooting of innocent, unarmed, or cooperative black men have faced little more than a slap on the wrist for their actions. The truth is, even when police officers are charged with time they often do not serve their full sentence and many walk free after full acquittals or mistrials.
In the case of Jemel Roberson, his loved ones and the people of the United States who desire change can only hope that justice is adequately served. Only then will the U.S. police force’s inadequate attempts to combat racism and implicit bias be fully confronted. Only when officers face the consequences of their actions will reform be propelled forward. Only when we call racism by its name and look oppression in the face will American society be able to say that it has truly offered condolences to the families of victims of police shootings and brutality.