Will an East Pittsburgh cop get away with murder?

June 27, 2018

Timothy Gaughan and Nicole Colson report on the wave of activism in the Pittsburgh area after the murder of an unarmed teen by a white cop.

“THREE SHOTS in the back! How do you justify that?”

That was one of the many chants that rang out as activists from across the Pittsburgh area took to the streets for several days in a row to protest the June 19 police murder of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II.

Rose was shot after he and another passenger allegedly attempted to flee the scene of a traffic stop in the city of East Pittsburgh. According to police, the car that Rose was in was allegedly involved in a shooting earlier in the day.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office has classified Rose’s death as a homicide — but as this article was being written, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala had not charged the officer who shot Rose with any crime.

Protesters demand justice for Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Protesters demand justice for Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Mark Dixon | flickr)

The day after the killing, police were in full “spin” mode — attempting to paint the unarmed Rose as a criminal. Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough confirmed that Rose was unarmed when he “bolted” from the scene, but emphasized that guns were recovered from the floor of the car, and made a point of saying that Rose had an empty gun clip on his body.

“I’m very confident that that was the vehicle involved in the shooting,” McDonough told reporters.

McDonough was also quick to say that Michael Rosfeld, the cop who shot Rose, would have been justified in shooting a fleeing suspect if he posed an “imminent threat.” He also initially refused to say what race Rosfeld is — he is white.

Zappala himself has a well-documented history of ruling police shootings as “justified.” Despite calls for Zappala to refer the case to the Pennsylvania attorney general, he has said he will not — preferring to investigate and handle the case locally.

IN THE days after Rose was killed, more details have emerged about Rosfeld’s history of abuse — and the circumstances of his shooting of Rose.

By now, many people have seen the video footage, taken by a bystander, of Rose and the other passenger running away from the car. In the video, three shots are heard, and Rose begins to fall to the ground.

It’s clear from the video that Rosfeld was in no danger from Rose. “Why are they shooting at him?” the person recording the shooting is heard saying. “All they did was run, and they’re shooting at them.”

When asked about the “groundswell” of outrage from the community over the police shooting, Superintendent McDonough criticized protesters. “I understand in today’s atmosphere any time a young man is killed there’s cause for outrage...in some areas,” he said. “However, I would urge people to give us time to conduct an objective investigation, to gather facts.”

If anything, the facts that have come to light since the killing suggest that this was police murder.

Rosfeld reportedly had eight years of experience at other police departments. Although McDonough didn't tell reporters this at the initial press conference, Rosfeld “left” his last job with the University of Pittsburgh police force after charges were dropped against three men whom he had been involved in arresting, because of discrepancies between Rosfeld’s report and the evidence in the case.

“It makes me sick that he was able to still be a cop after how they treated us, and that poor kid had to lose his life because of their negligence,” Timothy Riley, one of the men who Rosfeld had arrested, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to activist and commenter Shaun King, a school official at the University of Pittsburgh reportedly confirmed that Rosfeld was actually forced out of his job there after “brutally assaulting a Black student. That student was the son of a chancellor at the university.”

According to King, one current officer at the university who had worked with Rosfeld said he was “a fucking nut job.” Another reportedly said that the “was frequently violent” with students.

Rosfeld had been on duty in East Pittsburgh for three weeks before shooting Rose — but was actually only sworn in 90 minutes before he killed the teenager.

ON JUNE 20, protesters gathered at the East Pittsburgh police station to protest Rose’s murder. Police from surrounding suburbs were called in to protect the headquarters. Hundreds of demonstrators marched down Route 30, blocking several high-traffic intersections along the way.

This protest culminated in the occupation of Interstate 376. Although police had barricaded the entrance and exit ramps to the parkway, protesters were not deterred. Aided by some motorcyclist enthusiasts, they squeezed past the barricades en masse and ran up a grassy hillside to take the interstate — holding it for five hours.

As attention to the unjustified shooting grew via local and national media, activists became even more energized. Protesters marched again for a third consecutive night on June 22, with nearly 1,000 angry citizens gathered in downtown Pittsburgh during rush hour to vent their frustration with the system and to seek justice for Antwon.

Protesters took the streets once again and moved to occupy the Roberto Clemente Bridge over the Allegheny River — a main access route to the Pittsburgh Pirates ball field. Protesters marched and chanted their way to the north side of the stadium, where a baseball game was in progress. A splinter group of marchers then headed toward Route 28 — a major access highway to the city.

Not wanting a repeat of the previous protests, police acted quickly to stop the marchers — sealing off the ramps to Route 28 and thus blocking all outbound traffic themselves.

Other activists remained around the ballpark where security closed down all of the exit gates except one — in the hope of shielding fans from demonstrators.

After the game, one driver in a Mercedes pushed through the crowd, knocking protesters down as he went. (The car’s license plate number was captured, but no arrest had been made at the time this article was written.) The protest carried on into the night as activists stood toe-to-toe with police in riot gear.

In another protest that took place the same evening, activists shut down the Homestead Grays Bridge (named after the Negro League baseball team) which connects the city of Pittsburgh to the borough of Homestead over the Monongahela River — where Antwon’s funeral was held.

THE FOLLOWING day, June 23, more actions took place, including a Juneteenth march from Freedom Corner in the Hill District to Point State Park.

Later that evening, protesters gathered on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side. Carson Street is lined with restaurants and bars for nearly 20 blocks, and on a Saturday night is usually filled with loud revelers. The passion and energy was palpable as Leon Ford, the victim of a 2012 police shooting (in a case of mistaken identity) that left him paralyzed, spoke to the crowd.

Police blocked protesters' attempt to march to Station Square, and so protesters disrupted business as usual — blocking multiple intersections.

As mainly people of color held the line, arms locked, at each intersection, others shielded them. Hundreds of demonstrators marched, shouting call-and-response chants. A sudden downpour did not dampen spirits as marchers continues to forge ahead.

As protesters moved to occupy the Hot Metal Bridge near 11 p.m., police began to threaten arrests. Marchers then changed direction and went into the neighborhood streets — chanting and blocking intersections at every turn. This continued on into the early morning hours as police in riot gear attempted to block protesters’ route.

The importance of such protests was on display on the local news, as Gene and Robert, two older white truckers who had been forced to pull their trucks over as protesters took over the highway for Antwon Rose, told reporter Beau Berman that they also wanted justice for the slain teenager.

When Berman asked, “You are stuck here...Is it frustrating or are you okay with it?” one of the men responded, “Yeah, I’m good with it, man. I think [protesters are] doing a good thing, and they’re going to get their point across. And that’s good...We’ll get over this. That family is going to suffer for the rest of their lives.”

GOING FORWARD, activists are vowing to keep the pressure on to win justice for Antwon.

Following his killing, the Woodland Hills School District released a poem the teenager had written when he was 15, called “I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!” In it, Antwon describes his fears of becoming another statistic — another Black child shot by police. He wrote:

I am confused and afraid
I wonder what path I will take
I hear that there’s only two ways out
I see mothers bury their sons
I want my mom to never feel that pain
I am confused and afraid

“That is the life of many, many young African-American males. It was just that my son wrote it down and he lost his life,” Antwon’s mother, Michelle Kenney, said in an interview with Good Morning America.

Now, Antwon Rose’s family is calling for charges to be brought against Officer Rosfeld, who has been placed on “administrative leave.” For that to happen — and for real justice to be brought to Antwon and his family — activists will need to continue the pressure.

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