SALT LAKE CITY — Before Siale Maveni Angilau made national headlines when he was shot attempting to attack a fellow gang member during a trial, family members knew him as a loving and protective brother.
"He had the biggest heart. As the oldest, I'm supposed to protect, but he always looked out for our parents, our siblings and our family," said Angilau's sister, Tolina Tausinga, during a memorial on the steps of the federal courthouse where Angilau was shot by a deputy U.S. marshal on April 21.
Angilau was the last of 16 fellow Tongan Crip Gang members to be tried in federal court under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Charges included racketeering, robbery, carjacking, assault on a federal officer and weapons violations.
The 25-year-old reportedly grabbed a pen and lunged at the man on the stand, described during the memorial as "a brother turned foe." Now friends and family are backing what they call the Raise Your Pen Coalition aimed at writing a new story for Angilau and Tongans in Utah.
"Siale, is that why you reached for the pen?" said a letter sent by Moana Uluave, a childhood friend of Angilau and Harvard student. "You knew you did some bad things and you weren't trying to excuse yourself. You lunged forward knowing the punishment was never going to fit the crime."
Tausinga, Uluave and others decried the RICO Act and what they say is a tradition of racial profiling, cruelly long prison sentences and unfair treatment in the media.
The approximately 70 people who gathered outside the door to the courthouse, clothed in black or traditional Tongan dress, called the shooting unjust and a show of excessive force. Angilau was shot eight times, family members said, who expressed frustration that they are still waiting for answers about the shooting.
The FBI is investigating the shooting and had no updates Wednesday but expects to release more information in about three weeks.
Inoke Hafoka, one of the coalition's organizers, said he joined the campaign to remember Angilau as a friend, neighbor, family member and teammate, glancing often of pictures of him in a cap and gown.
"We want to share some of the good of Siale that hasn't been able to be portrayed for others to see," said Hafoka, who saw Angilau grow up alongside his younger brother. "He just another regular boy. I think there were a lot of people who were cheering for him and saw his potential."
Hafoka said he didn't see what "external forces" drew Angilau away from an innocent life of education and high school sports, but he believes his friend was exposed to stereotypes at a young age that changed his path.
"It becomes internalized by the boys," Hafoka said. "They think, 'Well, if I'm a gang member, then maybe that's what I need to do.'"
Along with memories of Angilau was a message of nonviolence. Ti Kinikini, adviser for the University of Utah Center for Ethnic Students, called Angilau's death a shocking wake-up call in the Tongan community, encouraging one another to serve and mentor one another and young generations.
"We cry out for justice and even admit to aching for revenge, but we must not in the cause of retaliation become radicals ourselves," said Kininiki, who began his remarks in Tongan. "We must take the hands of our children, our elders, our neighbors and we can choose to keep the priceless memories of Siale Angilau before us as a solemn reminder of what it is we aim together for."
As the sun began to set on the courthouse, the group gathered to hear family members offer a musical number in Tongan and gathered close to hold flameless candles in a moment of silence and a community prayer.
The Raise Your Pen coalition is planning additional events this month, including a "Know Your Rights Workshop" at Salt Lake Community College on June 19.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: McKenzieRomero