Antwon Rose Jr. Is Another Unarmed Young Black Man Who Should Be Alive Today

Antwon Rose Jr. was a Black 17-year-old honors student at Woodland Hills High School near Pittsburgh. He died last week because an East Pittsburgh police officer shot him three times from behind. Rose’s story is at once terrifying and all too familiar, in a nation where hundreds of people of color die from police violence every year and where even 10-year old Black children are so afraid of police that their first reaction is to run even if they have done nothing wrong. 

On the day he died, Rose was one of two passengers in a “jitney”— a sort of unofficial taxi — in East Pittsburgh, a suburb just outside of Pittsburgh. An East Pittsburgh police officer pulled over the car because it matched the description of a car that drove away from the scene of a shooting 13 minutes earlier. 

According to an official police statement, the officer ordered the driver out and directed him to the ground. A cell phone video taken by a bystander shows what happened next.  As a second police cruiser parked behind the first cruiser, Rose and the other passenger got out of the right-hand side of the jitney and started running away from the officers. While the other passenger was eventually charged with a crime, the district attorney has stated, “Antwon Rose didn’t do anything in North Braddock other than be in that vehicle.” 

Less than two seconds later, the first officer gunned down Rose, who was unarmed. The other passenger continued running away. Later that night, the jitney driver was questioned and released. Since then, community members and people from across the nation have taken to Pennsylvania’s streets in daily protests calling for justice for Antwon Rose Jr. 

On June 27, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala announced that he is charging Officer Michael Rosfeld —who shot Rose — with murder. He also made clear that Rose had not committed any criminal act and had in fact held his hands above his head — showing he was unarmed — when he began running. District Attorney Zappala deserves credit for taking swift action to hold Rosfeld and his department accountable.

But the criminal charge for Rosfeld is only the first step in accountability.

In his press conference announcing the charges, District Attorney Zappala stated that the East Pittsburgh Police Department has no policy governing use of force. That is a gross dereliction of duty by police department leadership, especially when the Police Executive Research Forum and other organizations have provided clear guidance to police departments on use-of-force policies that help prevent unnecessary loss of life. The department must work with community members to adopt a use-of-force policy that makes the sanctity of human life a top priority and incorporates best practices to prevent unnecessary police violence.

The East Pittsburgh Police Department also needs to take responsibility for how its decision to hire Rosfeld contributed to Rose’s death. Rosfeld left his previous job (the third police department he’d left in seven years), at the University of Pittsburgh Police Department, after authorities “discovered discrepancies” between Rosfeld’s sworn statement and other evidence — in other words, that he was dishonest. Yet the East Pittsburgh Police Department chose to hire Rosfeld, and he went on to kill Antwon Rose Jr. just hours after being sworn in to his new job.

Police departments hiring the rejects and washouts from other departments is a nationwide problem, and it puts the public at risk.

As we know, Rosfeld is not the first such officer to receive nationwide attention for gunning down a Black child. In Cleveland, Officer Timothy Loehmann — the officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice — was described by supervisors at a previous department as being unable to “follow simple directions” and that he showed a “pattern of a lack of maturity, indiscretion and not following instructions.” He was rejected by at least five different police agencies in the region. But then the Cleveland Police Department hired him and gave him a gun. Tamir Rice died alone on a playground because of the department’s negligence.

We give police officers one of the most significant powers, and certainly the most final power, we confer on the government — the power to kill. Police departments need to exercise immense care in deciding who will wield this power and how they wield it. The East Pittsburgh Police Department has done neither.

The ACLU is supporting the community’s call for justice for Antwon Rose Jr. and will be working with the community on reform proposals to prevent other young people of color from suffering his fate. The East Pittsburgh Police Department and the elected officials who oversee it have a decision to make: Will they stand with the community, or will they stand in the way? For justice, there is only one answer.

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Anonymous

Many law enforcement seem to shoot to kill (vs wound). No reason for this fatal shooting. If Antwon had not been shot, would he not have been charged with attempted murder, or at least an accessory (not as innocent as portrayed)? And shouldn't the driver also be charged (makes no sense the driver was interviewed and released)?

Anonymous

Officers are trained to shoot to stop the threat. The first 2 shots (one in the face, one in the arm) didn't stop Rose from running. The third one did.

We don't know what Antwon would have been charged with if anything had he escaped. The guns were stolen and the driver thought his name was Javon. Decent chance he would still be at large. IF caught, I don't know if he would have been charged with attempted murder. He hired the driver to take he and Hester to that area. It also appears he took a stolen 9mm Glock with him and Hester consulted with him as to whether that was the guy before shooting. I'd say there is a good case to be made for accessory to attempted murder given those circumstances.

The driver was initially arrested. He was released after it was found out that he didn't know the other two guys and was only a hired driver. Since he complied and cooperated, I think they believed he had nothing to do with the shooting.

Anonymous

So, some gang bangers took a taxi to a drive by? A taxi that contained two witnesses? I find that hard to believe. Its more likely bthat it was a set up to recruit the kid.

Anonymous

Judge much? How are the skeletons in your closet? Quiet now but those bones will rattle one day. Are you prepared to be judged?

Marshall

This shooting rips at my non-white heart.  I don’t know whether that cop was a rogue/racist out to shoot black teens or a poorly-trained/qualified and inexperienced person with low intestinal fortitude who made a terrible decision under duress (the situational stress of pulling over a car with bullet holes implicated in a recent shooting).  Having been in a gunfight, I can tell you that they can go down really fast (if you need evidence, there’s no shortage of YouTube videos showing cops getting shot by perps with nothing in their hands until they do a quick-draw from the waist or even pocket).  I suspect it was the latter, based on witness reports of the cop hysterically holding his head after he shot Antwon.  Regardless, it was a bad shooting, and I believe he should go to jail.  There also is no shortage of videos showing cops doing everything they can before shooting someone, even if the perp is holding a gun.  We need more of those cops.  As in most professions, the quality of employees varies greatly. I endorse raising pay and having less ambiguous rules of engagement – e.g. can’t shoot until shot at first.  I also believe Antwon participated in risky behavior (riding in a car with someone who shot someone else on the street, running from cops) that increased his likelihood of getting hurt/killed.  He appears innocent and undeserving of being shot but at the same time not without fault.  I grew up in a terrible neighborhood in L.A. policed by Rampart.  I had a felony arrest at age 15, in 1985…caught for 1 of dozen of felony crimes I committed.  I was also friendly, polite, and a good student (played varsity basketball and made high school graduation speech in 1987)…taking AP classes just like Antwon.  I put myself into all kinds of situations that put me at risk, even if I wasn’t necessarily committing a crime at the time.  That’s the freedom we have in this country.  Sometimes when out late, I’d bolt if I saw the cops, just to see if they’d chase me, and if so, to have the thrill of out-running them.  If I got hurt while doing that, whether because some racist cop decided to shoot me or because I fell and broke my neck when some good cop caught up with me and tackled me to the ground, I would own some personal responsibility.  While ditching school one day, I got surrounded by cops pointing guns at me because I “matched” a robbery suspect (when I asked what the description was, cops replied blue jeans and t-shirt). Would not have happened if I stayed in school. I’m 49 now.  I stopped doing stupid things a long time ago.  The random traffic stops stopped.  I’m successful, make about $400K a year, have a great family life, and volunteer in the community.  I feel responsible for managing risk in my life.  I drive a well-maintained family car, don’t speed, don’t engage in road rage, stay off the streets between 11p-7a (when many bad things seem to happen, like muggings or traffic deaths).  I don’t ride in cars with people who shoot other people or run from police.  We have imperfect freedom in this country.  But it’s amazing how we can control the trajectory of our lives by focusing just on the things we can control.

Anonymous

Best comment I have read anywhere about this incident. More than one individual caused the outcome. The officer should answer for what he did, the jitney driver, the other passenger and everyone else involved in any way, each did something that led to the outcome. That includes Antwon. But, only one person killed Antwon.

Anonymous

Well said

Anonymous

The shooting will be justified. The circumstances, guns , car and running justy the shooting ..

Anonymous

The one clear part of criminal actions that is being lost is that all persons in the vehicle are participants in the drive by shooting. There was a driver faciltating the movement to the scene and two passengers and two weapons. All criminals were good boys at one time and always a good boy in the mothers eyes.

Anonymous

"The one clear part of criminal actions that is being lost is that all persons in the vehicle are participants in the drive by shooting."... and you know this how?
Be not quick to pass judgement. One day you will be judged as well. You may talk big now but when your time comes will you be okay with it?

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