Michael Rosfeld’s Acquittal is Just Another in a Long Line of Abuses of Power

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Michael Rosfeld’s Acquittal is Just Another in a Long Line of Abuses of Power

Michael Rosfeld

Michael Rosfeld

Michael Rosfeld

Michael Rosfeld

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

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The man who killed Antwon Rose II last June has been cleared of homicide charges.

Michael Rosfeld, a white former East Pittsburgh police officer, pulled over a car that Rose, an African-American 17-year-old, was a passenger in because it matched descriptions of a vehicle present at an earlier drive-by shooting. Shortly thereafter, Rose was dead. Rosfeld claimed that he thought Rose was carrying a weapon. He was not. In fact, Rose was running away from the scene, his back turned, when Rosfeld shot him three times. Rose never even faced his killer, let alone pointed a gun at him.

To many, a conviction seemed like a matter of common sense. Rose posed no real threat to Rosfield, so self-defense was not applicable; how, then, could this be anything other than manslaughter? But the members of the jury thought differently. After four days of trial, it took just four hours to reach a verdict: not guilty.

As pathetic as that is, it’s not really that surprising. According to the Washington Post’s fatal force database, 221 people have been shot and killed by police in America so far this year. Last year’s total was 998. A shocking number of the ensuing trials tell a similar tale to that of Antwon Rose — if there even is a trial.

In 2017, police bullets ended 987 lives. Only six of the officers responsible were brought to trial that year. As of late 2018, only 93 officers who used their firearms lethally since 2005 had been tried, and only about a third of them had been convicted of any crime whatsoever. From that frame of reference, it was actually a small miracle that Rosfeld ever appeared in front of a jury — the vast majority of his contemporaries are spared the inconvenience.

Said Allegheny Attorney General Stephen A. Zappala, Jr. in a statement following the announcement of Rosfeld’s acquittal, “In the interest of justice, we must continue to do our job of bringing charges in situations where charges are appropriate.”

Here’s the thing: charges are always appropriate. In no other setting than in that of the police officer versus the civilian is there a question of whether a potential homicide should be subject to legal examination. Some say that police officers cannot effectively perform their jobs unless they are comfortable in the knowledge that acting on spur-of-the-moment inclinations will not result in punishment. But if a police officer’s job is to maintain peace, the power to arbitrarily, whimsically strip someone of their life fundamentally undermines that duty.

And here’s the other thing: charges are meaningless if they never result in convictions.

For every Michael Rosfeld we let walk free, we reinforce the tacit understanding that a police officer can commit murder and get away with it, especially if the victim is a person of color. Until the legal system proves capable of disrupting the pattern that it began, the protests won’t stop.

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