More than 200 people crowded outside Lane Tech High School Friday night to pay respects to Jemel Roberson five days after he was fatally shot by a police officer while working security at a south suburban night club.
Lighting candles and releasing balloons outside the gymnasium where Roberson, a 2010 Lane Tech graduate, played on the basketball team, they recounted a warm personality with a “good spirit,” said classmate Citlali Arroyo.
“He was someone you could always say hi to,” Arroyo said, recalling a close — and tall — friend who poked fun at her for their height difference.
“We’re here to drown out the negative … We’re angry for our friend. And we’re going to fight for him,” she said.
Roberson, a 26-year-old African-American man, was gunned down early Sunday by a white Midlothian police officer called to assist when a fight broke out at Manny’s Blue Room Bar in Robbins. Witnesses say Roberson had helped stop the person who opened fire in the bar and was restraining him in the parking lot when the suburban officer fired the fatal shots.
The case has drawn national attention, most recently late Friday when Chicago hiphop superstar Kanye West donated $150,000 to an online fundraiser supporting Roberson’s family, according to the celebrity gossip website TMZ.
It’s also drawn outrage from community groups upset by the latest fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer.
Illinois State Police, who are investigating the use of force, claim Roberson was “in plain black clothing with no markings readily identifying him as a security guard.” Midlothian Police Chief Dan Delaney has called it a tragic “blue-on-blue friendly-fire incident.”
Black Lives Matter activists at Friday’s vigil joined calls from others, including the Rev. Michael Pfleger, for murder charges to be filed against the officer and for the Midlothian Police Department to release the officer’s name.
For many at the Lane Tech gathering, it was a chance to step back from the controversial details and pay tribute to a friend.
“I kept on hearing a lot of the same things from my friends. I didn’t want anyone to feel helpless or to feel their sorrow alone,” Arroyo said, lauding the sense of community among Lane Tech alumni.
“Anyone who went to Lane feels this. And anyone in the city can feel this too … He was our friend,” she said.
LaMont Mitchell said he hadn’t learned until hours before the vigil that one of his pickup basketball friends had been killed. They were friends in passing, playing every now and then in Wicker Park over the last few years.
Mitchell said Roberson had told him about his new job working in Robbins the last time they’d played together.
“He was so proud to be getting that job and supporting a family,” Mitchell said behind tears. “He was always upbeat, looking at tomorrow.
“All he was doing was his job. And he got killed for it.”