Verdict Reached in Michael Rosfeld Case

By Herb Geraghty


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On June 19, 2018 Michael Rosfeld shot 17-year -old Antwon Rose II three times in the back, killing him. That night a cell phone video of the shooting was uploaded to the internet and spread like wildfire. In it, you can clearly see Antwon running away from Rosfeld, who was a police officer. It was later confirmed that Antwon was unarmed.


As Pittburghers called for justice last summer we knew that it was a long shot. With so many high-profile cases of police violence against young black men and boys being determined “just use of force,” the odds were not in favor of any type of retroactive justice for Antwon or his family. In fact, according to research from Dr. Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer and current professor at Bowling Green University, police officers are very rarely brought to trial for killing citizens in the line of duty, and even in those rare cases they are almost never convicted.


However, in this case, the state could not ignore such clear video evidence. On June 26th, prosecutors charged Rosfeld with criminal homicide, citing inconsistent statements from Rosfeld about his frame of mind when fired his weapon. In the several months between the shooting and the trial, Pittsburgh media dug deeper into both Rosfeld and Antwon. Rosfeld, it turns out, was only sworn in to the East Pittsburgh Police Department a few hours before he released three bullets into the unarmed teenager’s body; however, he wasn’t new to police work. His previous job was with the University of Pittsburgh Police Department, where he was suspended, and ultimately resigned, two days after an incident in which he was accused of using excessive force. Antwon Rose II, on the other hand, had no reported history of violent crimes before his death and was remembered by many for his volunteer work in the community and work ethic as well as for his love of skateboarding.


Once the trial began, though, a very different story was put forward. A casual observer just listening to much of the testimony couldn’t be faulted for assuming that Antwon Rose II himself was on trial for his own death. This is because the defense attorneys chose to shift the focus from Rosfeld’s actions to information that he couldn’t have possibly known before he pulled the trigger. The jury was told about a non-fatal drive-by shooting that involved in a jitney that Antwon and another person, Zaijuan Hester, were in before they were pulled over by Rosfeld. Hester is now in prison for the shooting. The public will likely never know exactly what Antwon’s involvement in the shooting was, because he will never get a trial. Regardless, a person’s presence during or potential involvement in a separate act of violence should never justify lethal violence against them, whether or not their killer wears a badge. To be clear, this is not a call to abandon self defense or defense of others. If someone is an active threat, it is within reason to attempt to stop them; however, an unarmed teenager with his back turned to you and not moving in the direction of anyone else is not a threat.


Despite this, whether or not Antwon was a threat to Rosfeld or anyone else wasn’t something the jury was tasked with deciding. Rather, all the defense had to assert was that there was reasonable doubt that Rosfeld felt that Antwon was a threat; according to the jury, they were successful, as on March 22nd, 2019 Michael Rosfeld was found not guilty on all charges. For activists and anyone who was deeply disappointed with this ruling, it can be hard to grapple with the idea that this isn’t simply an example of the criminal justice system getting it wrong -- this is exactly what the system was designed to do. “It isn’t what I hoped for, but it’s what I expected,” were the first words Antwon’s mother, Michelle Kenney, said to reporters when the news of the verdict was announced. The reality is that within our legal system there are entirely different standards for justice that often depend far too much not only on the identity of the person who commits the act of violence but also on who the victim was. In this case, a use-of-force expert was called to the stand to testify on behalf of Rosfeld. He claimed that the officer followed proper procedure when he shot Antwon Rose II three times in the back, describing his actions as “textbook.” This testimony was used to justify a not guilty verdict but in actuality it should be viewed as an indictment of the entire system. If Rosfeld’s actions were “textbook,” as the use-of-force expert claimed, then we need a new textbook. We must work to change the entire apparatus that allows for such violence to go unchecked in whatever way we can.


It would be remiss of me not to mention the role that race played in this shooting. Antwon, like so many victims of state sanctioned violence before him, was African American. As a white person, as much as I may seek to empathize with and rehumanize the black people in my life, I know I will never understand what it is like to grow up in this country being viewed as a threat because of my skin color. I want to end this by sharing a poem written by Antwon Rose II two years before his death that shows just how well he understood this feeling. His mother has expressed that she wants it to be shared.


I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!

By Antwon Rose II


I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK!

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

I pretend all is fine

I feel like I’m suffocating

I touch nothing so I believe all is fine

I worry that it isn’t though

I cry no more

I am confused and afraid

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 true

I hope that it does

I am confused and afraid




This article originally appeared in Volume 7 Issue 2 of Life Matters Journal.


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