PITTSBURGH — On July 12 Antwon Rose Jr. would have celebrated his 18th birthday. Would have, that is if he had not been killed in cold blood by East Pittsburgh cop Michael Rosfeld in a June 19 traffic stop. The shooting of Rose three times in the back was captured on a cellphone video that has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Rosfeld has been charged with criminal homicide.
Rather than mourn on this day, family, friends, supporters and hundreds of others gathered at Hawkins Village in Rankin to celebrate Antwon’s life.
The “1st Annual Antwon Rose II Community Day” had everything any festival should have — balloons, vendors, live music, bouncy houses and face painting for kids, and hundreds of donated backpacks filled with school supplies to be given away. However, it had something most don’t — a memorial to Rose, filled with his guitar, skateboard, writings and other personal belongings.
Donations were received from all over the country, event planner and 1Hood organizer Jolisa McDonald said, showing broad support among working people. While the celebration was not intended to be a political event, participants could not help but express their frustration and desire for justice in this case. “This is happening too many times,” said Charlisa Nelson, who came from East Liberty. “The world is watching,” to see what will happen in the county’s prosecution of Rosfeld.
Some participants wore self-made T-shirts calling for Justice for Antwon, or emblazoned with the chant that has been prominent at area protests, “Three shots in the back, How you going to justify that?”
One special guest at the celebration was Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old African-American child shot dead by Cleveland police in 2014. She locked arms with Michelle Kenney, Rose’s mother, and they posed for pictures together.
Other memorial celebrations are taking place. The Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum, held a special showing of its civil rights exhibition July 8 dedicated to Rose.
Dozens of protesters filled the East Pittsburgh Borough Council meeting July 17 to demand the firing of Rosfeld. The exchanges between area residents on the one side and Mayor Louis Payne and council members on the other were sharp. Payne insisted they wouldn’t do anything about Rosfeld until his trial was over. While nearly 60 percent of East Pittsburgh residents are Black, the mayor and all council members are Caucasian. And Police Chief Lori Fruncek is Payne’s daughter.
Demonstrations have continued in and around Pittsburgh. A protest is planned for July 27 when Rosfeld will appear for his preliminary hearing at the Allegheny County Courthouse. The courthouse is at 436 Grant St. in downtown Pittsburgh. “We are asking everyone to pack the courtroom so they know that we are here,” the Alliance for Police Accountability, one of the groups backing the protest, said. The demonstration will begin at 11 a.m.
Protesters are also organizing a “Schools Are Not Prison” rally July 18 at the Woodland Hills School Board meeting to demand they cancel contracts with the police to patrol the schools, including the high school where Rose was a senior. A lawsuit that documents brutal beatings and attacks by Tasers on Black students there has gotten widespread news coverage.