PITTSBURGH — Hundreds walked out of high schools and colleges or took time off work to join almost daily protests in Pittsburgh after a jury acquitted East Pittsburgh cop Michael Rosfeld in the June 19 killing of African-American teenager Antwon Rose.
“Say his name. Antwon Rose!” protesters shouted. “How old was he? Seventeen!” and “Three shots to the back, how you justify that?”
The teen, who was unarmed, tried to run away after the cop pulled over the vehicle he was riding in with two other youth. The car had been involved in a drive-by shooting earlier. Rosfeld shot Rose in the back, arm and side of his face, killing him.
Protests broke out across the city after the slaying. Prosecutors charged Rosfeld with homicide. His jury trial began March 18 and lasted only four days.
Immediately after the killing a witness heard the cop say he didn’t know why he shot Rose. But Rosfeld told the jury he “thought one of them was pointing a weapon at me.” A video showed Rosfeld shooting from at least 30 feet as the youth ran away.
Cops always claim they are afraid for their lives, and the law is written to excuse them for whatever comes next. Retired Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Clifford Jobe testified for the defense that Rosfeld didn’t do “anything wrong. He was following his training.” He called the shooting “textbook.”
Prosecutor Jonathan Fodi countered that “we don’t shoot first and ask questions later,” pointing out that Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner.” But working people know that is exactly what cops are trained to do.
The 12-person jury, which included three Black jurors, found Rosfeld not guilty after deliberating for just four hours March 22.
Protests began right away in Oakland, East Liberty and other neighborhoods across the city.
On March 24 several dozen people gathered and put up a banner reading “He was seventeen” near the basketball courts Rose liked to play on. It is inside the Hawkins Village public housing complex where Michelle Kenney, his mother, lives.
Kenney said the outpouring of solidarity gave her hope and strength. “If this amount of people can put this together in 24 hours,” she said, “can you imagine what we could do to change the world.”
Over 1,000 university and high school students and others joined together the next day for a protest in the rain. When their march reached the Allegheny County Jail, they stopped and waved up at the prison windows in solidarity. Prisoners inside flicked lights on and off in response. The warden ordered a lockdown until the protesters left.
Antwon Rose “was unarmed, and he did not pose a threat to the officer or to the community,” his family’s attorney S. Lee Merritt said after the verdict. The acquittal “today says that is OK, that is acceptable behavior from a police officer.” Merritt said the family plans to challenge the verdict in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court or federal courts.