Second day protests continue along Centre Avenue (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
The March 22 acquittal of former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld in the shooting death of Antwon Rose II is as baffling as it is maddening.
Why? Because Antwon Rose didn’t have to die on June 28, 2018; that’s a fact.
Plain and simple.
Cut and dried.
Black and white.
Some people will quickly disagree with me, saying that if Rose wanted to live that night, all he had to do was stay home. Don’t get in a car that would be later used in a drive-by shooting. If you do and that car is stopped by police, don’t run from the car. But that’s not what I mean at all.
Others, including the thousands of people who have been protesting since a Central Pennsylvania jury found Rosfeld not guilty, also agree. Their rationale makes a lot more sense, however. Officer Michael Rosfeld shouldn’t have fired his weapon at two unarmed kids who were running from the area.
As much as people want to blame the 17-year-old, he had no power that night. That all belonged to Rosfeld. Yes, Rose made the split-second decision to bolt from the car. But he hadn’t been cuffed, hadn’t been ordered to stay where he was. He was 17 years-old and acted on an impulse. That was a “fight or flight instinct,” not power.
Rosfeld chose to stop the car.
Rosfeld chose to proceed with the stop without backup.
Rosfeld decided to remove the driver of the car first.
Rosfeld didn’t issue any orders to the passengers.
Rosfeld made no effort to search the car for weapons.
Rosfeld chose to pull his weapon and fire.
Rosfeld shot Rose in the back and left him bleeding in the alley without seeing if he hit anyone.
Antwon Rose II may have had choices, but he never had control. He lost it that night to Rosfeld. But he and every other black male in this county lost control of their fate years ago.
Rose’s homicide and Rosfeld’s acquittal was preordained in this county by a history of violence against young black men committed by white police officers and emboldened by decisions made by juries, judges, attorneys and state lawmakers. Black men have been murdered, beaten and paralyzed by police officers who rest easy in the knowledge that none of their brethren have ever been properly punished.
They also know that they can hide behind a state law that allows them to shoot any-goddamned-body that they want as long as they believe the target is a threat to the officer or the community at large. That’s why the jury said they acquitted Rosfeld. That’s why use-of-force experts I talked to said the jury got this one right, by golly.
What it seems like no jury ever considers, however, is that the cop may be lying to save their own ass. Police officers are rarely convicted in this country because juries give them the benefit of the doubt over the victims.
“No one wants to believe that the police officers out their protecting them aren’t honest,” one expert in police procedure told me. In Allegheny County, it has happened time and time again. This isn’t a new occurrence.
“Yes, we want the cops to come home safe, but we want our children to come home safe! We need that! This has been going on for decades! The pain that you feel today, is the pain that we’ve felt for decades! But no one wants to understand that. They think we’re just out here protesting just to protest, but we’re not doing that! What we’re saying is that we want life for our children and when we’re not done right, we want humanity to make us right,” State Rep Ed Gainey said the night of the acquittal.
But things have never been right in these cases. Everytime a police officer wasn’t held accountable for their actions in one case, it emboldened future officers. Each acquittal or failure to file charges pushed that fatal bullet deeper and deeper into Antwon Rose’s back.
On April 6, 1995, Jerry Jackson was shot to death by Housing Authority Police Officer John Charmo. Jackson led police on a high-speed chase through the southside. When Jackson and Charmo entered the Armstrong Tunnels, the officer claimed that Jackson intentionally spun his car around and sped toward Charmo’s vehicle. The officer fired in self-defense, killing Jackson. Except for the fact that none of it was true. Witnesses lied and evidence was buried that showed that Jackson had two blown tires and never spun the vehicle. Prosecutors said that Charmo pinned Jackson’s vehicle against the tunnel wall and opened fire. The case would have never gone to trial if a civil suit hadn’t turned up the missing evidence. As it was, it was more than five years before charges were even filed. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict and Charmo later pled guilty in exchange for time served and was released.
On October 12, 1995, Jonny Gammage was driving a Jaguar that was owned by his cousin, former Steelers lineman Ray Seals, when he was pulled over by police. He was beaten and choked by a group of police officers from Brentwood, Whitehall and Baldwin. Three of the cops were indicted on felony charges. A judge later ruled that all three officers would be tried only for a misdemeanor charge of involuntary manslaughter. Two of the officers were not retired after two mistrials and the third was acquitted.
On Dec. 21, 1998, Deron Grimmitt was shot and killed by Pittsburgh Police Officer Jeffrey Cooperstein, who shot him in the head. Cooperstein claimed that Grimmitt was driving straight at him. The problem was, not one of Cooperstein’s bullets hit the windshield and the fatal wound hit the motorist in the side of the head as he was going by and not a danger to the officer. Cooperstein, of course, was acquitted. To add further insult to injury the city had to cut him a check for more than $200,000 after Cooperstein successfully won a case against the city for wrongful termination.
These aren’t the only cases, of course. There have been complaints for years about officers mistreating black people. The two most recent was the beating that Jordan Miles took at the hands of three much larger police officers as he walked to his grandmother’s house one night and the shooting of Leon Ford in the spine, causing paralysis. Ford was pulled over for a traffic violation that took way too long because officers didn’t want to believe that Ford wasn’t guilty of something. None of the officers in those cases were ever brought to trial.
That’s why the protests have to continue. The momentum that has been feeding off of Rosfeld’s acquittal can’t die away because there will be a next time. There will be another Antwon Rose II, another Jonny Gamage, another Jerry Jackson.
The bullet that killed Antwon Rose II has been forged over the course of two decades. The mold is a state law that is basically a manual to show cops how to shoot someone and walk free. The lead is the sickening apathy from cops, jurors, lawyers and judges who seem to think that the life of a police officer is worth much more than the life of a black kid who made a mistake and died for it.
The next round of bullets has been made. It’s going to take all of us to make sure they’re never fired.