By Jess Semler
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
We all have different tools in our toolbox when it comes to fighting white supremacy and patriarchy.
This platform is one of my tools, and after the announcement of the Michael Rosfeld verdict last week, it felt inappropriate to write about anything else. I’ll do my best to not fumble this, acknowledging that I am speaking as a white woman.
The community has been reeling since the murder of Antwon Rose II in June 2018 and there is anger and blame to spare for different people at fault. There’s Rosfeld, who shot unarmed Rose three times in the back within hours of being sworn in as an officer for the East Pittsburgh Police, who made him an officer less than six months after the University of Pittsburgh Police Department fired him for use of excessive force.
Over the past two decades, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala has failed to hold police accountable for questionable and excessive use of force, but I thought he’d take this case seriously since he has a challenger for the first time in years in the May 21 primary election.
I asked several lawyers for their take on how Zappala’s office handled the case; they were all appalled by the lack of effort. They did not consult a Use of Force expert and failed to push Rosfeld on multiple changes to his story (or his abusive past). The defense played Rosfeld as the victim, rather than the boy he shot to death in the street. The DA’s team didn’t call them out. That is the tragedy of the verdict; the folks tasked with bringing #justiceforantwon didn’t do their job. As an attorney friend told me, “The jury won’t bear the burden if the prosecution will not.”
“After hearing about the outcome of the trial, youth leaders from different schools and universities all came together collectively to give youth a way to make their voices heard,” Alyza Foster, a CAPA student and a member of the Youth Power Collective, which planned the march, said. “Friday night into Saturday morning, a few student leaders from different schools created a group chat, adding different students as we continued planning to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to share how they felt and how we planned to organize around it.”
Folks don’t need to have known Rose personally to feel deeply affected by his murder. This tragedy reverberates through our community, and the verdict is an indictment of the culture that allowed this to happen. His peers are still fighting for the justice he deserves.
“I personally want to help people discover their voice and learn to speak up when dealt injustice,” Foster said about her passion for this march. “Two people who graduated from CAPA last year (Nia Arrington and Christian Carter) helped me find my voice, and now it’s my turn to help others find theirs.”
I attended the youth march on Monday and was blown away at how quickly the student organizers put together such a large, effective action. The rain didn’t stop hundreds upon hundreds of students from showing up. Many held signs with Antwon’s poem “I Am Not What You Think.”
Other signs I witnessed made me realize I needed to write about this, as a white person, to other white people. Quotes included “White Silence = Violence,” and Desmond Tutu’s quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail, he noted that the “white moderate” is even more dangerous than folks who are blatantly racist. It isn’t enough to not wear a MAGA hat. If you care about others and say you want equality, you must take an action. Is Pittsburgh Stronger than Hate? Let’s prove it.
We need to listen to the youth who are organizing and follow their lead. Below are the demands they listed for their march, and links to donate.
“On June 19, 2018, 17 year old Antwon Rose II was shot in the back as he ran for his life. On March 22, 2019, the police officer who murdered Rose walked free. We demand justice for Antwon Rose II. Walk out of school at 11 a.m. (12 p.m. for downtown students) and join us at the Pittsburgh City-County Building in peaceful protest to celebrate the life of Antwon and work toward the justice he deserved. This is an event organized by Pittsburgh high school and college students. We encourage every high school and college in the area to attend.
We are coming together as high school and college aged youth, demanding:
- Justice for Antwon Rose II
- Fire the FOP president.
- Get rid of DA Stephen Zappala.
- Full community control and democratic oversight over the police! Strengthen the Allegheny County Police Review Board by making it democratically elected and giving it the power to hire and fire, issue binding recommendations and approve or deny police department funding requests.
- Convict and sentence killer cops. End the policies which have led to the mass incarceration of black youth and end the school to prison pipeline.
- No more Pittsburgh police inside of city schools. Fully fund public schools and youth job programs to give kids the resources they need.
- Environmental justice now! Clean air and water for all, especially the black and brown working class neighborhoods most impacted by corporate and institutional negligence.
- Black homes matter! Build more affordable housing and create protections for renters to address the increasing shortage of affordable quality housing and gentrification of black and brown working class neighborhoods.
- Build a mass movement of youth and workers to fight for a new system and a better world free of police violence, racism and white supremacy.
- Work towards the collective liberation of all people and a world where police and prisons are obsolete. Until black and brown folks are liberated, no one is.”
Support protesters with donations via Cash App to $APAPGH1.
Donate to Rose’s family via Cash App $AntwonsMother.