After East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld fatally shot unarmed Woodland Hills High School student Antwon Rose Tuesday night, the community responded quickly, organizing daily protests that Pittsburgh officials expect to continue through the summer.
The first protest began outside the East Pittsburgh Police Department Wednesday night. Hundreds joined the impromptu rally, blocking traffic while rain poured down.
Another protest followed Thursday afternoon at the Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. Many high-profile activists attended the protest, including Leon Ford, who was paralyzed after being shot by police six years ago, and Summer Lee, Democratic state House candidate for the 34th District of Pennsylvania. Protesters directed their focus against Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who is up for re-election in 2019.
“Five kids from Woodland Hills have been killed since I started running,” Lee said. “We will not just fight the power. We will seize the power. We are coming for anybody, anybody who stands in our way, towards freedom.”
I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!
At the protests, friends and family shared memories of Rose, including a poem he wrote in high school called, “I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!”
“I am confused and afraid,” was the refrain. The poem continued, “I understand people believe I’m just a statistic / I say to them I’m different / I dream of life getting easier / I try my best to make my dream come true / I hope that it does.”
Protesters continued Thursday with an evening rally that began outside the East Pittsburgh police station. While people arrived the group organized itself, preparing signs and chants for their planned march.
The group, which grew to nearly 100 people, blocked traffic around the area, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” Many members of the Pittsburgh Youth Power Collective led chants and emerged as the loudest voices in the crowd. The group, comprised of mostly high school students, also organized the Black Lives Matter X Never Again protest on Pitt’s campus in March.
Major Bill Teper of the Pennsylvania State Police had 100 state troopers stationed on the highway the protesters were blocking by 9:50 p.m. and threatened to clear the road with force if protesters did not move by 1:00 a.m.
“What you’ve done here is unprecedented,” Teper said to protesters. “But you need to leave.”
Following a tense standoff between protestors and troopers, the protest officially dispersed around 2:30 a.m.
More than 400 protesters gathered Friday evening for a demonstration at the Wood Street T Station in downtown Pittsburgh. Organizers Christian Carter, Jasiri X and others led a march through the city’s Cultural District and looped through the North Side via the Sixth Street and Rachel Carson Bridges. The Pittsburgh Police, led by Chief Scott Schubert, strategically rerouted traffic around the protest to deny them the blockages that direct action tactics had caused the previous day.
“We want people to be able to express their First Amendment rights,” Schubert said.
Murdered on Juneteenth
The march stopped at Market Square, where organizers asked the crowd to return for a Juneteenth celebration the following morning at Hill District’s Freedom Corner Memorial Park — but the demonstrations weren’t done for the day. The protest continued Friday night, waning in energy until a black Mercedes Benz drove through the crowd at the intersection of West General Robinson St. and Tony Dorsett Drive. Police later identified two injured victims — one who suffered an ankle injury and another who suffered a back injury.
About 300 protesters gathered Saturday morning at the Hill District’s Freedom Corner Memorial Park for the city’s fourth annual Juneteenth celebration, an event meant to celebrate the 153rd anniversary of the official end of slavery in the South. Protests for Rose began shortly afterwards, attended by Allegheny County Democratic Executive Rich Fitzgerald, 12th District Councilman Robert Palmosina and 18th District Rep. Conor Lamb, among other officials.
“From kids getting shot in the back, to migrant children being kept in cages, we need to take better care of our kids,” Lamb said to the assembled crowd.
The crowd then marched in heavy rain to Point State Park, while protesters chanted, “Murdered on Juneteenth!” referencing Rose’s June 19 death. Mayor Bill Peduto joined the march halfway through at the Wood Street T Station, but remained silent through the protesters chants of, “Hey, hey, ho ho, Stephen Zappala’s got to go” and “Shut it down!”
Leon Ford led another protest that evening at 8 p.m. in Pittsburgh’s Southside. The 300-person protest, organized by Charlotte Hill from Homewood, moved down East Carson Street toward Station Square at a pace set by Ford. Protesters put children in the front of the crowd while Hill defused altercations with bar-goers in the area.
“Stay focused,” she yelled through a megaphone at protesters who argued with partiers outside of The Flats on Carson Street.
An ice cream truck for Antwon Rose
Rose’s wake was Sunday at the Tunie Funeral Home in Homestead. Hundreds of mourners showed up to pay their respects, and attendees ate from an ice cream truck with a picture of Rose taped to its side. The Pittsburgh Gentlemen Motorcycle Club arrived around 7 p.m. to show their respects, and multiple mourners wore T-shirts with Rose’s picture on it.
Rose’s family requested that protesters suspend action Sunday and Monday during his wake and funeral.
“I will be up here every day with you!”
Protesters assembled again Tuesday in front of City Hall where they met with multiple Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania elected officials. Multiple officials at the public meeting, including 24th District Rep. Ed Gainey, called for Zappala to press charges against Rosfeld, the officer who killed Rose.
“When you ask us for trust, we gotta believe that you will discipline your own!” Gainey shouted in a passionate speech.
Peduto also confirmed his support for charges to WTAE on Monday.
Rose’s great aunt Carmen Ashley held a picture of Rose as she addressed the crowd on the steps of City Hall.
“[The protests] helped me and my family just a little, but we will not rest until we get a conviction!” Ashley said to the crowd. “I will be up here every day with you!”