This Juneteenth marks two years to the day that Antwon Rose Jr. was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh Police officer.
Family, friends and community members gathered Friday to remember Rose, whom they described as smart, loving and sensitive. They also reflected on the current unrest around police brutality against black and brown people.
“They had the nerve to steal our son two years ago on a day that was marked for freedom,” said Tracey Jennings, who read a poem she wrote about Rose’s death.
Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 that enslaved blacks in the state of Texas learned of their emancipation. But many see Rose’s death and police brutality against Black Americans as an outgrowth of slavery.
Crowd prays for Michelle Kenney at Antwon Rose balloon release. pic.twitter.com/aUkv2WQmWa
— Sarah Boden (@Sarah_Boden) June 19, 2020
“There’s still a whole lot of injustice,” said Andrea McNeill, of Homewood. “I like to say you’re free-ish. You’re free-ish. That’s what Juneteenth means to me right now.”
Rose’s death in 2018 sparked dozens of protests throughout Pittsburgh and other cities. Since then, Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, has become an advocate for policing reforms.
“I only know how to be a mom,” Kenney told the crowd in East Pittsburgh. “All I know is how to fight for my kids…my kids will always be my everything.”
Kenney, who used to work as an administrative assistant at the Wilkinsburg Police Department, said she knows the fight for reform will be difficult. Still, she vowed while speaking to marchers to continue to advocate for policy changes and talked about her recent trip to Washington, D.C., where she spoke with Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.
“[He’s] a Republican, ya’ll. But guess what, he’s working on the same thing I’m working on,” Kenney said. “So, I ain’t got no problem with taking a seat at the table. Cause I sure told him a few things too.”
President Donald Trump later claimed he had met with Kenney during her trip, which she refuted on Facebook.
As protests against police brutality continue, state Rep. Ed Gainey said if enough people vote, change could happen.
“We have always beat the odds when the odds are put in front of us,” Gainey, a Democrat who represents many of the communities east of Pittsburgh, said. “My ancestors cry out to you.”
At the end of the event Rose’s family released balloons near a new billboard on Highway 30 that displays Rose’s smiling face and the words, “We will always miss and love him.”