PITTSBURGH — Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh cop charged with criminal homicide for shooting and killing Antwon Rose Jr. June 19, waived his right to appear at a preliminary hearing. Protesters demanding justice in the killing had announced plans to demonstrate there. His formal arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 22, and a trial will be set at a later date.
Eyewitness video showed Rosfeld shooting the unarmed Black 17-year-old three times in the back as the youth fled a car the cops had pulled over. A popular slogan at many of the demonstrations is “Three shots in the back, how do you justify that?”
Rosfeld is on unpaid leave from the East Pittsburgh Police Department and under electronically monitored house arrest.
Some of the demonstrations blocked city streets and major highways. At one of those actions, two Caucasian long-haul truck drivers whose way was blocked got out of their trucks and asked demonstrators what was going on.
After being shown the video, one of the truckers told WTAE TV News, “This killing has to stop. Not just here, but throughout the nation.” He told the TV reporter he supported the protests.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Police Department announced new, more restrictive guidelines July 26 that encourage cops to declare such gatherings illegal. Police Chief Scott Schubert claims that it would make it easier for cops to strike a “balance” in allowing some protests while shutting down others to maintain “public safety.”
Protesters who had planned to rally outside the now-canceled preliminary hearing instead used the July 27 action to oppose the new guidelines.
The new restrictions list “red zones” — including tunnels, bridges, and dozens of roads and intersections — where demonstrators are not allowed to march into the street if they block traffic at any time. Others are designated as “yellow zones” where protesters are allowed to block the area for up to 15 minutes before being subject to arrest.
The cops cooked up this attack on the right to protest after consulting with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pittsburgh Citizen’s Police Review Board.
When asked about the constitutionality of the new guidelines, Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said that there was one problem. They don’t say they apply only to events without permits. “This would pass constitutional muster if they just put [that] caveat in,” he said. “I think Mayor [Bill] Peduto and his police deserve a lot of credit for allowing the protesters to have their say.”
Some protesters argue the street blockages are good, because the disruption forces Caucasian drivers to confront their own complicity with racism. At one such action, a demonstrator carried a sign that said, “White People Kill Your Bias and Stop Killing Black People.”
But as the two truckers show, there is less racism than ever among the working class. Most oppose the killing of Rose, and many are open to joining the fight to convict Rosfeld.
These confrontational tactics made it easier for the cops to restrict the right to protest.
“First of all, they make laws they don’t even follow, yet they expect us to follow a set of guidelines that aren’t law,” Nicky Jo Dawson told the July 27 protest. “These guidelines are coming down from the same people who want to oppress us.”
On Aug. 2, the family of Antwon Rose filed a wrongful death federal lawsuit against Rosfeld, the borough of East Pittsburgh and its mayor and police chief. The lawsuit says the borough council didn’t train or vet its officers properly, and that Rosfeld used excessive force in killing the youth. Rosfeld was fired previously from the University of Pittsburgh police force for fabricating evidence in a case there.
Supporters of the fight for justice for Rose are planning a protest outside Rosfeld’s Aug. 22 arraignment.