On June 19, 2018, a White police officer, Michael Rosfeld, fatally shot Antwon Rose II, a Black teenager, in East Pittsburgh. Rosfeld pulled over a vehicle that matched the description of a reported drive-by, in which a man was shot thirteen minutes earlier. Rose and another passenger fled the vehicle. Officer Rosfeld shot three times, but Rose’s back was turned and he was unarmed.
Two handguns were found in the vehicle, and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala stated Rose had an empty handgun magazine in his pocket. The local newspaper reported the police shooting and printed: Pennsylvania law allows police officers to use deadly force to prevent someone from escaping arrest if that person has committed a forcible felony or possessed a deadly weapon.
Protesters blocked traffic on a major highway for hours.
Charge Rosfeld, then prosecute the case in a manner that forces the jury to give the benefit of the doubt to the police officer. A week later Zappala charged Rosfeld with criminal homicide and said, “You don’t shoot someone in the back if they are not a threat to you.”
When the Rosfeld trial began a White man that I know predicted an acquittal. He said, “They just shot someone…They found guns in the car…No jury is going to ruin an officer’s life over some drive-by shooters.”
It was necessary for this White man to label Rose a drive-by shooter to suppress his gut feeling that something was wrong. The label allowed him to ignore his gut, close his mind, and justify the police officer’s actions. He blocked out words like victim, teenager, and unarmed because those terms would require him to place some liability on the police officer.
I told this local White man he was emotionally compromised. That’s why they got an out -of-town jury, but it’s not the jury’s job to take into consideration whether the defendant’s life will be ruined by the verdict. It’s the jury’s job to decide if the defendant is guilty of the charge.
Then I said it’s going to boil down to what the prosecution burdens themselves to prove and how the jury determines the mindset of the police officer. The White man said it’s going to come down to the mindset of the jury, and he repeated, “They’re not going to ruin that man’s life for no drive-by shooter.”
I said BS. He said I bet you.
I said how much? He said $100. I said bet.
On March 22, Michael Rosfeld was acquitted. Of course, the White man said to me, I told you so, but to his surprise, I said you owe me $100.
He said, “but the officer was acquitted.”
I reminded him the bet wasn’t the outcome of the trial. I already knew the plan. The bet was on the mindset of the jury, and you said the jury would not ruin the officer’s life over a drive-by shooter, but you can’t prove the jury based their decision on that assertion. So, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to the jury and assume they followed their instructions.
He said that’s not fair.
I said neither was the verdict.
District Attorney Zappala said after the acquittal, “While I respectfully disagree with their verdict, it is the people of this Commonwealth who decide guilty or not guilty…in the interest of justice, we must continue to do our job of bringing charges in situations where charges are appropriate, regardless of the role (drive-by shooter or not) an individual holds in the community.”
Then Zappala washed his hands.
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)