'This Hurts. This Is Real.' Protesters Fill Downtown After East Pittsburgh Teen Fatally Shot

Jun 21, 2018

Protesters crowded into a downtown Pittsburgh city block Thursday, calling for answers in the wake of 17-year-old Antwon Rose's death. Rose was shot and killed by a police officer in the suburb of East Pittsburgh Tuesday as he fled a traffic stop.

The rally, which lasted about two hours, took place in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse. Protesters called for the officer to be prosecuted for murder as well as for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. to be voted out of office.

They said they have no confidence in Zappala and faulted him for not bringing charges against officers who have shot civilians in the past. Zappala did, in fact, pursue charges against a Housing Authority officer, John Charmo, for a 1995 shooting in the Armstrong Tunnel: He later pled guilty to manslaughter. But activists have faulted Zappala for not prosecuting officers in more recent cases, like the 2016 shooting of Bruce T. Kelley Jr. on the East Busway. 

They also criticized officials for not releasing the name of the officer who shot Rose, though county officials later identified him as Michael Rosfeld.

Leon Ford, 25, arrives to the Antwon Rose protest on Thursday, June 21, 2018 in downtown Pittsburgh. Ford was shot and paralyzed by Pittsburgh Police in 2012 and spoke emotionally to the crowd, saying "We can't afford to sit by and do nothing."
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

In a statement, Zappala's office said "the investigation remains ongoing" and that Zappala would have no comment until next week "out of respect for the grieving process." 

Police pulled over Rose and two other occupants on suspicion that they were involved in an earlier shooting. McDonough said two guns were found in the vehicle that Rose fled, though Rose was unarmed when he was shot. The officer who shot Rose had been sworn in just one hour before the shooting.

Leon Ford, who was paralyzed after being shot by police during a 2012 traffic stop, gave an emotional speech at the rally.

"We can move closer to justice, but justice is really an illusion," he said. "We have to hold these people accountable."

Ford sued the city and won a $5.5 million settlement in January.

"It's gonna be Antwon that's gonna change the face of this city forever," Ford told the crowd.

Activist Christian Carter, 18, read a poem written by Rose.

I am confused and afraid / I wonder what path I will take / I hear that there's only two ways out / I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mom to never feel that pain / I am confused and afraid

Lifelong Pittsburgh resident Kenny Holiday said the shooting was completely unjustified. He said he doesn't know why Rose decided to run from the police, but that he doesn't understand the officer's actions.

Legend (10, in the back) and Maceo (9, in the foreground) Watkins hold up signs as they stand on the side of the Allegheny County Courthouse at a rally to protest the death of Antwon Rose on Thursday, June 21, 2018.
Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

"Boom, boom, boom. Wow," Holiday said. "That made me think that [the officer] was just going out there to kill somebody today."

Tierra Thorne, a social worker from Wilkinsburg, Pa., said there are still many parts of the story that are unanswered, including that the driver of the car was arrested, but not charged and later released. 

"If they were involved in something that shouldn't have been, why did they let him go? Why are there no charges?"

The borough of East Pittsburgh, a community of over 1,800 residents, issued a statement late Thursday evening.  It called Rose's death "a tragic loss for his family and friends as well as for our community as a whole." 

Calling the shooting and its aftermath "a very stressful time for our community," the statement said, "We are seeking truth and answers but the process takes time. 

This is a very stressful time for our community.  We are seeking truth and answers but the process takes time.  ... [W]e ask for the public to be patient and respectful of their fellow neighbors as the investigation continues to move forward."

Elected officials outisde the borough weighed in on the controversy with public statements. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents the area, issued a statement that said the video "is extremely troubling, and it raises many questions." He called for "a thorough and transparent invesgitation."  

U.S. Senator Bob Casey issued a statement that similarly said he was "disturbed" by the shooting and said, "I have numerous questions about exactly what happened and why."

A second rally that began at the East Pittsburgh police station Thursday night moved to the highway. Protestors marched onto I-376 at the Forest Hills on-ramp and brought traffic to a standstill for miles in each direction.

This is an ongoing story. 90.5 WESA will be sharing updates throughout the night. Chris Potter, Sarah Kovash, Kathleen Davis and Katie Blackley contributed to this report.