Pittsburgh: Mayor-Elect House Protest, Town Hall, Advance the Struggles for Jim Rogers, Leonard Williams Jr.

By Josefina Morales

On Tuesday evening, protesters gathered at the house of the Mayor-elect of Pittsburgh, Ed Gainey, to denounce his complicity in the cover-up of the police murder of Jim Rogers, an unarmed, homeless Black man. Activists carried a banner reading, “People’s Justice for Jim Rogers,” and occupied Gainey’s yard as police watched from a distance. The action took place one day after a town hall in Pittsburgh, which not only raised awareness of the fight for Jim Rogers, but tied it to the case of Leonard Williams Jr., a Black man murdered by his landlord in Washington County in September.

As protesters approached Gainey’s house on Tuesday, residents joined in from the surrounding community. The protesters carried a banner reading, “Pittsburgh Police are Murderers.” An activist told a local monopoly media outlet the action was to denounce Gainey and other ruling class officials who “continue to pretend that they do not hear us. So today, they’re going to hear us.”

Rogers was attacked by officers Keith Edmonds, Gregory Boss, and Pat DeSaro on October 13, dying the next day at Mercy hospital. Edmonds tased Rogers 8-9 times, after which Boss and DeSaro violently restrained Rogers, and denied him medical care despite his pleas for help. Rogers went into cardiac arrest on the way to Allegheny County jail and was diverted to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital (UPMC) before he died.

During Monday’s town hall at the Afro-American Music Institute (AAMI), activists and the families of Williams and Rogers demanded justice and called for struggle against the racist system which killed them. Williams was shot to death by his landlord, Quentin “Lewis” Trisler, in front of his daughters over a dispute regarding eviction notices placed by Trisler on the doors of the apartments where Williams lived.

Activists named Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Mayor-elect Gainey as enemies of the people. One speaker said that “Gainey reinstated Edmonds into the police academy after he was fired for crimes he committed with his brother.”

The speaker said that to secure his election, Gainey “used the fact that he was a Black man from Homewood, but officers like [Edmonds] are the type of officers Gainey supports in our communities. Both of them have done terrible injustices to the people of this city.”

The activists have also denounced Allegheny Country district attorney (DA) Stephen Zappala, who was silent on the Rogers case until confronted in person, as well as Washington County DA Justin Walsh, who refuses to prosecute Williams’ killer. Walsh falsely categorized Trisler’s murder of Williams as a “justifiable homicide.”

“We see from these statements, or lack of statements, that they’re talking to us in circles, similar to what they’ve done in the case of Romir Talley, Antwon Rose and Jaylen Brown and so many others,” an activist explained at the town hall, naming other victims of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

The activist also shared the Rogers family’s demands: arresting officers Edmonds, Boss, and Desaro, charging them with murder, and releasing all unedited footage related to Rogers’ death, from police body cameras to the hospital footage.

Tribune has been the only news organization to identify the officers involved in the murder of Rogers. “The media refuses to name the three officers who murdered Rogers. ‘Our executives won’t let it pass,’ they say. […] It takes a working class news publication to get the word out about what actually happened to him,” the activist continued. 

Imani, an activist with Young Black Panther Party (YBPP) and cousin of Williams, also denounced Gainey, calling for people to confront him with “the same energy” as they had Peduto during the past year’s protests of police murders, especially during the May Uprisings.

“My cousin was not behind on rent,” Imani said, exposing Trisler’s excuse to mass-evict his tenants as a lie. “They don’t want you sitting here, talking about this. With Jim, they’re not telling the truth about the case, same as my cousin.”

On the Fundraiser to raise money for the Williams family to press their case against Trisler, his family posted: “The Washington City Police department has refused our right to the Freedom of Information Act, and will not share with us the police report.”

Rogers’ family addresses the town hall.

Rogers’ nieces Diamond and Katie spoke about their uncle, saying that they are tired of the city’s silence and that all those covering up his murder. “[The police] know they were wrong, trying to preserve their reputation and their jobs and we don’t care…We refuse to be silent about that. They saw him as a homeless man who didn’t have anything or anyone—these people can treat other people like garbage and then get to hide.”

Robert Gowans, a former Wilkinsburg police officer who shot and killed Romir Talley in December 2019, “is now a medic,” a supporter added, “and he was never held responsible for taking a Black man’s life. That’s what we’re talking about.”

To conclude the event, attendees gathered for a photo holding articles published by Tribune on Rogers and Williams, and chanted, “People’s justice for Jim Rogers! People’s Justice for Leonard Williams Jr.! People’s justice for all victims of police brutality!”

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