Posted inLatest News

A roundup: Pittsburgh reacts to the not guilty verdict for Michael Rosfeld

At the 18th birthday celebration of Antwon Rose, Jr. in Rankin on July 12. Photo by Bill O'Toole.

Pittsburghers expressed outrage, disappointment and disbelief as they took to city streets and social media this weekend after a jury late Friday found former East Pittsburgh Police officer Michael Rosfeld not guilty in the shooting of Antwon Rose II.

Rosfeld fatally shot the unarmed, black 17-year-old in the back on the evening of June 18, 2018.

An understanding that inequality exists & we have a moral obligation to address it. I offer the full support of the city of Pittsburgh, to help us find light in darkness.

(Part 2 of 2)

— bill peduto (@billpeduto) March 23, 2019

In the aftermath of the verdict, hundreds protested peacefully Downtown. Vigils, including one Sunday afternoon at Hawkins Village where Rose once lived, and comments from community leaders continued throughout the weekend.

On Saturday, Maxwell King, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, released a joint statement saying, “We have asked the question, ‘Would Antwon Rose be alive today if he had been white?’ We, his family and African American community leaders believe that more than likely he would be.”

The statement goes on to say, “Pittsburgh now has the unwelcome notoriety of having its name added to a list of troubling incidents across America where the dispensing of justice has been less than convincing following the deaths of young black men. And there are questions that must be urgently addressed, locally and nationally, concerning police behavior, law enforcement recruitment and police officer training.”

On Sunday, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet released his own statement, saying “We understand that many students will want to support those fighting for Justice for Antwon. We are aware of students’ plans to protest the jury’s decision. We respect the right of all students to lawfully and peacefully protest, and we take seriously our responsibility to keep all students safe and secure.”

Organizers on social media are called for a student walkout for high school and college students with a peaceful protest planned at noon on Monday at the City-County Building to demand justice.

“These students today were making what was for many of them their very first act of civic engagement, and possibly their first act of advocating for civil rights for themselves
and for others,” wrote Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project. “Many of these kids may very well feel that ‘they could be next’.”

Below, we offer a quick rundown of some coverage of the verdict and its aftermath.

-At the Post-Gazette, Paula Reed Ward and Shelly Bradbury were on hand for each day of the trial, including the final verdict on Friday evening.

Antwon’s mother, Michelle Kenney, did not visibly react to the verdict. She told her daughter not to cry.

“Michelle is upset. She’s angry. She is not broken,” said S. Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who represents her. “It is not over, and she will continue to fight for her son.”

Also at the P-G, Ashley Murray reports on the Rose family’s next move.

The motion, filed Saturday by attorney Monte Rabner, notified the attorneys for Mr. Rosfeld, East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis J. Payne and police Chief Lori Fruncek that a response on the civil complaint was requested within 21 days.

-The staff at PublicSource covered a rally and memorial for Antwon Rose II in the Hill District on Saturday, which attracted 200 citizens and a number of regional political leaders.

PHOTOS: Hundreds gather in protest over the verdict in the shooting death of Antwon Rose II #J4A

— PublicSource (@PublicSourcePA) March 23, 2019

State Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, told the crowd that the justice system must radically change how it treats black men and boys.

“We have to tell [our sons] the truth about civil rights. We have to tell them the truth about race relations. We have to tell them the truth about criminal justice,” Gainey said. “We’ve got to raise a nation of sons that become conquerors that dismantle, destroy and reconstruct the whole criminal justice system.”

During the trial itself, the nonprofit news organization also featured poetic tributes to Antwon from local performance and visual artist Vanessa German pulled from her Facebook posts.

here is a boy who should be dancing.

here is a boy who should be up in the morning making his mother laugh, eye shine reflecting the sky, a sigh in his chest leaning into the wind of the day with a sweet ache to own the horizon in his wing span.

-At The Root, senior editor Damon Young posted Things Michael Rosfeld Can Do Today In Pittsburgh, America’s Most Livable City, Because He’s Free (And Antwon Rose Can’t Because Michael Rosfeld Killed Him). 

1. Watch a pierogi race at a Bucs game.

2. Ride the Duquesne incline down from Mt. Washington, and take in the city’s amazing skyline.

3. Eat a Primanti Brothers sandwich in the Strip District or Oakland.

4. Ride the Phantom’s Revenge at Kennywood Park, and grab a funnel cake (with strawberries) to go on the way home.

5. Get hired by Google, work in Bakery Square, lease a condo with Bakery Living, and then maybe meet some friends for drinks at Social later this evening. (See the remaining 5 points in his post linked above.)

I’m grieving for Antwon with his family and his community.

Lawmakers have a duty to reevaluate and rebuild the prevailing power structures when they fail to deliver justice.

Let’s fight to hold our officers, our courts, and our systems accountable. #AntwonRose

— Rep. Sara Innamorato (@RepInnamorato) March 23, 2019

-Finally, from the NEXTpittsburgh archives, is a story from September of last year, when we spoke to local criminal justice experts like forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht and University of Pittsburgh Professor School of Law Professor David Harris about the practical reforms that could prevent future tragedies.

While many in Pittsburgh may balk at the cost and complexity of the proposed reforms, Harris says they will save the region from paying an even steeper cost: “People say it’s too expensive. While how expensive would it have been to have two weeks of rioting like they had in Ferguson?”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.