From Busy Streets And Church Pews, Activists Seek Change After Antwon Rose's Death

Jul 3, 2018


A few hundred people formed a messy circle in an East Liberty intersection, sweating in the 90-degree sun for more than two hours to listen to activists like Nicky Jo Dawson.

“We haven’t even begun,” she told the crowd Sunday.

The gathering is one of many since the death of Antwon Rose, the black teen who was shot and killed June 19 by an East Pittsburgh police officer.

The speakers listed off demands, including a first-degree murder charge for officer Michael Rosfeld, who faces a criminal homicide charge for shooting Rose. Demonstrators said they also want him fired and his bond revoked.

“There’s always a catalyst that sparks the revolution,” Dawson said. “Y’all have to understand that this time, this revolution can’t end.”

The revolution she described is here, halting traffic on busy Pittsburgh streets. But it doesn’t stop when the demonstrators put down their megaphones and disperse. It’s brewing across town and in the suburbs, including the community where Rose lived.

Organizing for political change

Two dozen people sat in the pews of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Rankin on Friday for a town hall on law enforcement.

“What we’re here for is to identify how we can work with these small municipalities to develop their policies,” said Deborah Brown, president of the East Boro branch of the NAACP.

She wants to make sure all police departments have comprehensive policies on use of force, hiring procedures and code of conduct. The Pittsburgh area has 120 police departments, many with fewer than a dozen officers patrolling single boroughs. That was the case in East Pittsburgh, where Rosfeld shot Rose.

The conversation turned to making sure the right people hold positions of power over law enforcement, such as local council members.

“We need to get involved in politics, not just voting,” said Craig Thomas, who grew up in Braddock.

As the event wound down, he asked those in the church to join him the next morning on a walk through neighboring suburbs.

“It’s going to be a grassroots attempt to connect with the community,” he said, promising hot dogs and water to those who show up.

A walk for healing

On Saturday, a few familiar faces arrived in Swissvale, along with several dozen others. They stuck mainly to the sidewalks, smiling as they passed neighbors.

“God bless you over there,” Thomas shouted to a woman watching from her porch. “God bless you!”

Skylor Wingate-Massie leads a group Saturday through the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh on a walk remembering victims lost to gun violence.
Credit Amy Sisk / WESA

They held signs with the faces of local black youth, many shot and killed over the past few decades -- some, like Rose, by police; others by fellow residents.

The group stopped at a vacant lot and a playground where some of the victims took their last breath. They prayed for healing for those who have lost someone to gun violence.

Skylor Wingate-Massie helped organize the walk with the Plant A Seed Children’s Partnership. The group began planning it weeks ago, she said, before Rose died.

“That could be my child right here,” Wingate-Massie said. “This could be my child.”

She has a son and two daughters, one who attended school with Rose. After his death, the girl met up with her friends to honor him by ordering pizza from Dominos, where he’d worked.

“If he was late for class, he would write a card to his teacher and say, ‘I’m sorry,’” Wingate-Massie said. “So they made cards to him. They’re finding solace in being together, which is so powerful.”

So did the residents on Saturday's walk, as they connected with each other and their neighbors. It gave them a chance to continue the discussion from the night before, to talk about how to approach elected officials, how to recruit candidates to run for some of their seats and how to empower black youth.

“We have to understand it takes a lot of different ways to affect change,” Wingate-Massie said.