Berringer: Until officers stop treating African-Americans as guilty until proven innocent, blacks will continue to die in police shootings

By June 26, 2018 June 30th, 2018 No Comments

A young protester holds a sign during a June 22 protest for Antwon Rose in Homestead (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

When I was eight-years-old, my father sat me down for a talk. I vividly remember the details because I thought it was an odd conversation to have at the time.

He began, ‘The moment a police officer stops you in a store or on the sidewalk make no sudden movements. Don’t reach into your pocket, your backpack, anything. And do not run.”

I was puzzled, “But, what if I haven’t done anything wrong? Can’t I just show him what’s in my bag or my ID so he knows it wasn’t me?”

“No. Never that,” he replied. “If he wants to see your ID or what’s in your bag. Ask for permission and over explain your actions before you make them.”

It just didn’t make sense to me at the time. “I’m just a kid — why do I need to know this now? Can’t it wait until I’m older?”

“No,” he said adamantly,”You need to know this now and don’t ever forget it.”

Unfortunately, my dad was right. I needed that information early in life. At the age of ten, my brother, sisters and I were stopped by our small-town police officer. Needless to say, there weren’t many people of color living there at the time.

We were walking down the sidewalk having just spent the few dollars we had on some candy at the Rainbow Market. But for some reason, something didn’t look right to this rookie police officer — four black kids walking together, joking around on a normal summer day. He told us that more than four of “us” walking together was considered a gang. To make sure there wasn’t any trouble, he required us to walk in pairs on opposite sides of the road.

My dad’s words echoed in our heads with perfect clarity. We stood perfectly still. Didn’t reach into any bags. We did exactly what we were told. Scared with hearts pounding in our chests. He let us go but watched us until we got home. As we walked, two-by-two down opposite sides of the street, we didn’t talk. And as much as we wanted to, we did not run.

At 15-years-old, the conversation took on more detail. At eighteen, when I learned to drive, my father instructed me on how to reach into the glove compartment if I was stopped by the police and where my hands should always be placed — “on the steering wheel and never move them.”

I had to consider myself guilty until proven innocent.

That’s the same way Antwon Rose Jr. was treated when East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld pulled him and two others over on Tuesday, June 19th because the vehicle he was in matched that of one used in a drive-by earlier that day. Unarmed, 17 year-old Antwon was shot three times in the back by Officer Rosfeld as he fled the scene.

Let’s be clear, and it’s sad in this society that we have to say it, fleeing the scene does not give law enforcement the right to shoot anyone. Lethal force should be the absolute last resort.

After days of peaceful protests demanding justice for Antwon we have seen many city and county leaders marching and protesting the injustice of the senseless killing of a young man. They have been engaging with the community on their social media accounts and demanding change and justice.

Other area leaders have either remained silent or given us their normal round of “thoughts and prayers.”

If you’re a public official and you haven’t publicly called for District Attorney Stephen Zappala to charge Officer Rosfeld, you are on the wrong side of history. This is your chance to truly stand up for justice and say that you too are willing to take action and demand that black people in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania not only see justice for Antwon Rose, but that the senseless murder of black people at the hands of police won’t be tolerated.

Presumptive state Representative for the 34th District Summer Lee said recently, “We are not just going to fight power, we are going to take power.”

This will happen. This is happening.

If you, too, want to see change and demand accountability and justice for Antwon Rose, you should make your way to Freedom Corner — the intersection of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue at 6:30 p.m.on July 2nd. A candidate is expected to announce plans to run against Zappala.

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have the opportunity to show the rest of America that racism has no place in civil society. And, just maybe, 8-year-old black girls and boys in the future won’t have to be taught how to act around law enforcement to avoid being gun downed in the streets because they were guilty of being black.

Author: Aryanna Berringer
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Email the Author

Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest