When an unarmed black teenager was killed in East Pittsburgh last summer by a white police officer, to most of the nation, it was just another death in a long string of police shootings of unarmed black men. For Pittsburghers it brought an issue that had until then seemed remote into startling clarity, and it reminded the inhabitants of the city and its suburbs that they were not removed from the issues that plagued the rest of the country. As of this evening, that saga has -at least temporarily- come to a legal close. Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh policeman responsible for the death of Antwon Rose II, was found not guilty on the charges of first degree murder, third degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. For supporters of Mr. Rosfeld, it was a vindication of Mr. Rosfeld’s motivations and decisions- and of those of other cops in similar situations. For supporters of Mr. Rose, it was a stinging defeat that drove home for them a sense that the justice system does not actually deliver justice for victims.
With no clear indication of what comes next, Mr. Rose’s supporters have taken to the streets. From Downtown to East Liberty, hundreds of marchers have gathered in the biting chill of a March midnight to protest the decision of the jury. Together with the many more people who have cried out agains the decision on social media, they have rallied around a shout of, “No Justice, No Peace,” to declare their refusal to accept the verdict on moral grounds. But it remains unclear where these protests will lead, beyond more protests. Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted out his grief and desire for progress, but there is little he can do to repair relationships between communities and police that have frayed across the region, not in the city itself. Popular anger with District Attorney Stephen Zappala may help bolster the campaign of challenger Turahn Jenkins, but Mr. Jenkins made early stumbles in his campaign that he does not seem to have fully recovered from. It seems likely that no matter how important Mr. Rose’s case remains to the public consciousness, nothing will be done in the present to truly reform police-community relations in the region’s most vulnerable -and stratified- boroughs and neighborhoods.
As the region moves forward, much of the impetus from the case and protests will end up in the hands of its youth, many of whom felt viscerally connected to Mr. Rose. Plans for a protest on Friday, March 29th at Capri’s in East Liberty are already circulating across social networks. The outpouring of anger, sorrow, and support that occurred during the direct aftermath of Mr. Rose’s shooting, and which has manifested again today, may be a sign that there will be a more enduring effort towards reform by students across the region for justice to be delivered in courts of law. Or a brief spike in calls to action and plans for protests may be all that results. With Mr. Rosfeld’s acquittal a fact, observers will just have to wait and see.