By Blake Garrison
On the afternoon of Saturday, June 19, activist non-profit organizations Pittsburgh, I Can’t Breathe (PICB) and the Antwon Rose II Foundation led a march in remembrance of Antwon Rose II, a Black teenager who was murdered by Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld in 2018.
On June 19, 2018, Officer Rosfeld pulled over a jitney, an unlicensed taxi, that Rose was traveling in. When Rose tried to run away, Rosfeld shot him three times in the back, killing him. Rosfeld was ultimately charged with homicide, but was acquitted after only a few hours of jury deliberation.
In the time before Rose was murdered, he had written a poem titled, “I am not what you think.” The poem opens with the lines: “I hear that there’s only two ways out / I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mom to never feel that pain.”
PICB speakers made a call to support Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, as she continues to fight for justice, and criticized the opportunism of organizations who have abandoned the struggle.
One speaker connected Kenney’s fight for justice to Danielle Brown and Tasha Talley‘s struggle. Brown is the mother of Jaylen Brown, who fell from his 16th-floor dorm window and died during an interaction with Duquesne University police officers under unclear circumstances. Talley is the mother of Romir Talley, who was shot seven times by Officer Robert Gowans in 2019. The officer’s name was only released after people protested outside the homes of the mayor and the chief of police.
“We working women understand deeply that the oppressive system imposes violence on us daily,” said one speaker. “We must transform the notion that we must be complacent, and instead take our oppression and transform it into a revolutionary fight for the transformation of society!”
The group of demonstrators, which included friends and former classmates of Rose, marched from the Mt. Washington neighborhood to the Smithfield bridge, where they tied purple balloons along the railings, purple for Rose’s favorite color. From there they marched downtown, carrying signs and banners reading, “People’s justice for Antwon Rose II” and “Combat and resist police brutality.” The demonstrators chanted Antwon Rose II’s name as they marched.
As the march made its way downtown, several passersby joined in the protest, particularly when it reached the city’s Juneteenth festival. Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the day that Black slaves in Texas were notified of their freedom on June 19, 1865, two years after the emancipation proclamation outlawing slavery was originally issued.
During one speech, a member of PICB declared that they were committed long-term to the fight for justice for Rose, emphasizing that “We’re gonna do whatever it takes to get it, as well.”
University of Pittsburgh law professor Jerry Dickinson, who is currently running for Congress, made an appearance at the march. Some demonstrators condemned Dickinson for using the march as a platform for his election campaign, citing his intention to be part of the same system that murdered Rose. At one point when Dickinson wormed his way into a group photo, he was asked by the photographer to step away from the group.
“It is clear that we must fight together, and rely on the people to force those in power to concede to our demands. Change is not won through elections: it is won through transformative action of the people who rebel against the unjust system,” said an activist. “The true heroines, the true protectors of our community, are always the people within them. This is why we call for people’s justice: to call for the working class people of these communities to have control over how justice plays out.”
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