Jemel Roberson: Tragedy of a Citizen Hero & How the Church Must Respond

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Jemel Roberson is a security guard who stopped another potential mass shooting at a bar, just like the one last week in Thousand Oaks, CA. Reports say he asked some rowdy drunk attendees to leave. One came back and begin shooting in the bar, and the security guard opened fire and then subdued the man waiting for the police to arrive. No one died. So in this case this gentlemen is a hero. He should be on the news being praised for his intervention and protection of the other patrons.

While he is in the news, it is not for praise. He’s on the news because when police responded to the bar, instead of questioning the security guard (even with their guns drawn to identify the guard was the guard, though he had a vest on that said “Security”), the first officer never said anything he just opened fire and killed the guard on the spot amidst the patrons yelling “he’s the security”. The story behind why this officer responded the way he did is that the security guard was black. As it goes, the officer saw an African American man with a gun holding someone on the ground and opened fire on him.

Now I know many of my fellow white conservative Christians believe the media paints a particular narrative regarding police involved shootings and African Americans. The typical response is “Let’s wait for more facts.” Sometimes facts come out that corroborate the account and other times contradict the media’s take. And I know many assume to agree that some of these shootings are racially-motivated somehow means you are bashing cops. So they rather deny it, even when the facts confirm it, because they don’t want to come across as maligning the police. Acknowledging that there are times where police (the good & bad) still do this today does not constitute to bashing cops. It’s called owning the truth—that this still happens because of race/ethnicity and ‘said’ account is one of those times.

Well, the story of Jemel Roberson is one of those times. This young African American man, at work, doing his job, guarding lives, was killed by a police officer who failed to do his job. Am I bashing the police. Nope. Just owning the truth. Do I know what that officer was thinking? Nope. Fox News says it was an accident. And that could be the case. But the facts reveal that the officer never asked or demanded the “man with a gun” do anything. He simply shot him. The facts reveal he had attire on identifying him as security. Yet he was still shot without hesitation. The facts reveal the patrons were yelling to the cop that the “man with a gun” was the security guard, and the cop never paused but kept shooting. Was it because he was black? I can’t say yes definitively. But, I, as an African American man, can’t help but wonder if Jemel Roberson had been white would he still be alive? How often do my fellow white Americans (not living in the hood & raised in the street life) wonder about this, the wonder that their kids could be at work doing their jobs and get shot and killed by the police, or are leaving a party and could be intentionally shot and killed by the police while they’re in a car?

Unfortunately, this is the reality for many non-white Americans in America. Some people do bring it upon themselves by the kind of lives they live—that doesn’t make it right, but that context means we can’t group these accounts with all the others. Yet, there is a number of non-white Americans killed by police where this is not the case. And not only do those officers oftentimes get away with it, nothing changes because of it.

I have the utmost respect for police officers. As we celebrated Veterans Day yesterday, I wondered why don’t we have a civil servant veterans day for police officers, firemen, EMTs, etc. These civil servants risk their lives daily. I strongly believe they should be honored for their jobs and sacrifices. So please don’t misunderstand my point with what I’m sharing. Honoring police and acknowledging (affirming & calling out) that we have a disproportionate problem of police involved shooting deaths of non-white Americans are not mutually-exclusive. As biblical Christians who understand the imago dei, the reality of the depravity of man, the justice of God, and the grace of the Incarnate One, we can do both. We must do both. And we should be part of doing something to change that disproportionate problem, because there is a part of the Body of Christ in America suffering from this problem.

A valid question I’m sure many may be thinking is, why make a fuss about the cops who do this and not the bad guys who do this all the time? Because we expect bad guys to do bad things. It’s not shocking when bad guys act badly. Hence, why we have police in the first place—to be the resistance to the bad guys and protect the good guys. And hence, why it’s not shocking to many when bad guys get killed by police. But it is shocking and scary when the police—good guys with authority—do what the bad guys do and get away with it. It is more shocking and scary when they claim or are defended by the thought that the person of color they shot and killed was a bad guy without confirming it first. A prime example that even one witness of this current tragedy echoed,

“I guess when the police got there, they probably thought he was one of the bad guys, cause he had his gun on the guy and they shot him.”

It is even more scary when this happens to the non-white good citizen while the majority white good citizens see this and say and do nothing about it, and instead many times justify the police—because they assume to not justify them somehow condemns the police. This is why many cannot be silent about this issue.

Christians are supposed to wisely stand up and speak out for what is right and wisely stand against and speak out against what is wrong. This is not political pandering, and it most definitely shouldn’t be used for political pandering by Christians—that is unbiblical and a disgrace to Christ. This “good guys with authority” killing non-white good citizens is a problem that has existed in America since the founding of America. Is this problem as bad as in the past? Absolutely not. But it can definitely get better. And we, believers of Jesus who are living in this time and in this great nation on purpose by the sovereign plan of God, should be part of the work of helping America get better in this area; for the Church is one of the means the Holy Spirit uses to restrain evil during this age. So to my fellow white American Christians, especially my conservative Christians, we, your fellow non-white American Christians, need you. We need your voice, support, and action in this work.

Jemel Roberson should not have lost his life at the hand of the “good guys”. Jemel prevented everyone, including the drunk gunman, from dying and yet he’s the one who is shot and killed. Jemel was the good guy, doing a good job in resisting some unruly citizens and protecting the other good citizens. This is a tragic story of a citizen hero killed by a member of the very organization he wanted to be a part of. And I can’t help but to believe that he was killed because he was black and assumed to be the bad guy.

I am praying, and ask that you would pray also, for his family and loved ones. May they find supernatural comfort and the mending of their heart in the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. May He grant them divine love and grace to forgive as they have been forgiven (for those who are in Christ).

I’m also praying, and ask that you would pray too, for the officer who has to live with what he’s done for the rest of his life—whether it was done by accident or mischaracterization. May despair nor self-righteousness overtake him. May he come to the One who freely extends grace and mercy and experience godly sorrow and forgiveness.

May the lost life of this young man rally the American Church together, not to make an enemy of the police but to speak, stand, and act in solidarity about this reoccurring problem in our country.