In the three nights following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr, protests have been held outside the East Pittsburgh Police Department and caused the shutdown of some city streets. The Pittsburgh community has railed against this latest case of police violence perpetrated on an African-American teenager in the United States. Rose was shot three times after fleeing a car stopped in relation to a nearby drive-by shooting. Police have confirmed he was unarmed. The officer who shot Rose, Michael Rosfeld, has been placed on leave pending an investigation into the incident. Local news station WXPI reported that he was only sworn into the department a few hours prior, though he had previous policing experience. The protesters have reportedly chanted “Three shots in the back. How do you justify that?” in reference to Rose’s unthreatening behaviour before his death. They also recited a poignant line from a poem he had written about police violence in high school, “I’m confused and afraid”, a sentiment seemingly shared by many members of Pittsburgh’s African-American community in the face of this tragedy.
Personal tributes have flowed for the victim with Gisele Fetterman, the leader of a volunteer organization that Rose worked for, telling the Washington Post: “He was friendly, easy to work with, smart, vibrant… a caring person, and everyone loved him.” Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has reported that S. Lee Merritt, a civil rights lawyer, has issued a statement questioning the legality of the police actions, saying “We must emphasize that rumors of [Rose] being involved in a separate shooting are unsubstantiated… We know that he was not armed at the time he was shot down, that he posed no immediate threat to anyone.” The protests and media coverage have brought significant local political attention to this incident and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has stated that The Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition has also released a statement calling on the District Attorney to make Rosfeld face trial over the shooting while Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has made a similar suggestion.
These are certainly worthwhile steps in obtaining a just outcome in this case. Should a proper criminal trial be conducted, then the rule of law will be upheld and applied equally to those who enforce it. Having Rosfeld stand trial also serves to deter police from resorting to lethal force in similar situations, although according to Phillip Stephenson from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, conviction rates are a low 35% for fatal police shootings. Despite the protesters’ personal pain for Rose, they make it clear that this case is emblematic of broader systemic issues with police violence in the United States.
Rose’s passing fell on the day after Amnesty International USA released a report entitled “Deadly Force: Police Use Lethal Force in the United States” which found that each of America’s 50 states failed to meet international standards on police use of lethal force. This report emphasizes the necessity that such force only to be used as a last resort, yet nine states have no laws at all on the use of lethal force. Additionally, the report found that these institutional issues disproportionately affect African-Americans as they make up 27% of the casualties despite only representing 13% of the population.
Tragically, Rose’s death is not the first or likely to be the last unjust death at the hands of United States law enforcement. However, the strength of the protesters and political will shown by the members of the East Pittsburgh establishment has highlighted that this is an issue that Americans will not continue to stomach. While the national political conversation may have moved away from such events, it is vital that they not become routine. By demanding justice for Antwon Rose Jr, the protesters have played their part in tackling an issue of violence with a solution of peace.