Kailey Love | Editor-in-Chief
The trial of Michael Rosfeld, a former East Pittsburgh police officer charged with one count of criminal homicide for the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Antwon Rose II in June 2018, ended late Friday night in a not guilty verdict and a string of protests throughout the city.
With the options of not guilty or guilty of first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary man-slaughter or in-voluntary manslaughter, the jury deliberated for about three and a half hours, coming to their decision around 8 p.m.
The jury in Rosfeld’s trial, selected in Harrisburg a week earlier, originally consisted of six men and six women,
three of whom were African-American. On March 22, one of the original jurors was dismissed by presiding Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket for undisclosed reasons, and replaced with an alternate.
Preparations for possible protests upon announcement of the verdict were released several days before the trial began. As a “safety precaution,” the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department announced that they would be closing sections of Grant and Ross Streets and Forbes and Fifth Avenues while the trial was in session. An additional increase in law enforcement presence Downtown and in various designated zones was also planned, according to their statement.
With its close proximity to the Allegheny County Courthouse, Duquesne also made preparations in the event of demonstrations.
Through an email alert on Wednesday, March 20, Duquesne Police Chief Tom Hart notified students of the anticipated demonstrations in the area surrounding the courthouse. Even though he said that “we don’t expect any disruptions,” he notified students of the precautionary measure taken to make Libermann, Fisher and Rockwell Halls swipe-accessible until further notice. At time of print, the skywalks will remain open.
“At Duquesne, the safety of every student, faculty and staff member is of the greatest importance. We have long been aware of the Michael Rosfeld trial date and have worked together on organized, thoughtful preparation to uphold the welfare of everybody on campus,” said Gabe Welsch, Duquesne vice president for marketing and communications.
Also stressing that the university “does not expect any disruptions,” Welsch said that ”the University is
monitoring the situation carefully … In the case of any major adjustment to ongoing campus operations, we will quickly inform students, faculty and staff via the DU Alert system, campus email, the Duquesne University home page, social media posts and other communication methods.”
Welsch also stated that Duquesne Public Safety is in “constant contact with and cooperating with Pittsburgh Police” in monitoring the situation close to campus.
Hours after the verdict, Duquesne President Ken Gormley released a statement regarding the trial via an email to students, stating that “It is important to allow the system of justice to move forward in the aftermath of this decision.”
“I want our campus community to know the outcome and to understand that many throughout the Duquesne community will have a variety of opinions and reactions to the verdict. Our duty to one another is to create respectful space and time for discussion, prayer and reflection,” he said. “As trying as this moment may be for those who have followed this tragic event in our community, we should all reflect on ways we can commit to a more just nation and world.”
Shortly after, Vice President for Student Life Douglas Frizzell also sent out an email to students, stating, “I recognize that this has been and may continue to be a very challenging time for many as this has been a very emotionally charged case. Please know that there are many resources at Duquesne University that are available for those who wish support.”
Lawyers for Rosfeld argued that the shooting of 17-year-old Rose was justified, based on the events that preceded the shooting. According to police reports, the incident occured at a traffic stop, where the vehicle Rose was in was pulled over because it matched the description of a car that had been involved in a drive-by shooting earlier that night. Rose and the backseat passenger, Zaijuan Hester, fled as Rosfeld ordered the driver down on the ground.
Rosfeld was captured on video by bystanders shooting a retreating Rose three times. One shot hit him in the back and went through his heart and lung; he was pronounced dead at the hospital soon after.
Earlier this month, 18-year-old Hester pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and firearms violations for the aforementioned drive-by shooting. On the night in question, two hand-guns had been found in the vehicle, and an ammunition clip was discovered in Rose’s pocket, but he was not in physical possession of a weapon when he was shot.
Following Rose’s death last summer, protesters took to the streets in locations ranging from the East Pittsburgh police station to the streets of Downtown. One of these protests even shut down Interstate 376. Following the not guilty verdict, protesters gathered outside of the courthouse, and demonstrations also occurred late into the night throughout East Liberty.
A statement released by the Public Safety Department shortly after the verdict said, “If demonstrations occur, Pittsburgh Police will be present to assure safety from everyone — including demonstrators, residents, business owners and visitors to our city. We know from experience that when Pittsburgh experiences hardships, we come together as a community.”
Following a number of inquiries “about safety on campus given some of the activity in the city following the verdict,” Frizzell released an additional email to students on Saturday afternoon regarding safety precautions.
“We planned to enhance the number of police patrols on the campus and lock down all Living Learning Centers 24 hours a day following the verdict, which are in place,” Frizzell said. “We are unaware of any threat to student safety on campus. If that changes in any way we will alert students and provide updated information immediately.”
Several hours after Frizzell’s email, a peaceful demonstration, referred to as a “solidarity march,” made its way throughout Downtown’s main roads for over two and a half hours. Chants such as “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Which side are you on? Freedom side!” rang out, as well as a song with the lyrics such as “Antwon Rose was a freedom fighter and he taught us how to fight / what side are you on, my people, what side are you on?” The protesters briefly marched alongside Duquesne’s campus on Forbes Avenue, and the protest eventually dissipated after marchers reached Market Square. They later reassembled at Schenley Plaza and continued their protest in Oakland.
Another protest occurred on Monday on Grant Street Downtown, driven by student participation. A planned student “walk out” that converged at the City-County building was organized through a Facebook event, and described as a “peaceful
protest to celebrate the life of Antwon and the justice he deserved.” Hundreds of local high school and university students marched down the Boulevard of the Allies.
Prior to the protest, handwritten notes were seen on glass doors and windows at the entrances to College Hall on campus which read “Walkout 12 p.m. City County #JusticeforAntwon.” The messages were washed away by late afternoon on Monday.
Per Frizzell’s initial email, there are several locations on campus that will provide support to students that are seeking it in the wake of the trial, including: Center for Student Wellbeing – Counseling Services; Office of Diversity and Inclusion; Campus Ministry; Residence Life and Public Safety – in the event you have an immediate need after University office hours or an emergency, call 412-396-6002.