Black activists outraged at police killing of teen, ask AG to investigate
Black activists across Western Pennsylvania expressed outrage Thursday as the investigation continued into an East Pittsburgh officer that shot and killed an unarmed teen this week.
The head of the Black Political Empowerment Project said 17-year-old Antwon Rose was shot because he was black and did not trust the District Attorney’s Office to independently investigate.
The head of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the NAACP questioned how much training the officer had and said the officer didn’t think when he pulled the trigger.
“There is no reason for this death other than somebody felt a black life did not matter,” said Tim Stevens, chair and CEO of B-PEP and a long-time activist in Pittsburgh’s black community.
“Police have the power in their hands to arrest you, to cuff you, to use a baton upon your body, to tase you, to shoot you and potentially kill you. That’s an awesome power.” – Tim Stevens
— Theresa Clift (@tclift) June 21, 2018
The officer who shot Rose in the back as he ran from a traffic stop may not have done so if the teen had been white, Stevens said.
“Maybe if he were white, he would look at that 17-year-old as his child or his nephew or his cousin or the grandchild because he’s looking at himself,” Stevens said of the officer. “Far too many white officers don’t look at black children and black men as people. Some look at them as animals.”
Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough has declined to disclose the officer’s race or the officer’s name.
The organization, along with the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence, are calling for changes to state law that would require all officer-involved shootings be investigated and prosecuted by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.
The group Thursday sent a three-page letter with the request to McDonough, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The group has been pushing for the change, which they call the Due Process Act, for several years, Stevens said.
“Maybe this is the case where that (request) has a little more focus,” he said.
Zappala has said if state lawmakers made that change, he would comply, according to a letter the district attorney sent Stevens in January. Zappala’s position remains the same, spokesman Mike Manko said Thursday.
Shapiro on Thursday released a statement calling Rose’s death a tragedy and saying he does not have jurisdiction over the case unless Zappala refers it to him.
“I hear the outrage of the people in East Pittsburgh,” Shapiro said in the statement. “The loss of any young life is deeply painful, and I expect local law enforcement to give this the thorough investigation it deserves.”
Richard Stewart Jr., president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the NAACP, supports B-PEP’s efforts.
“This district attorney has shown, in the past, that he will not indict law enforcement officers,” Stewart said.
Local NAACP leaders say they’re figuring out how to respond to Rose’s death.
“The community is hurt and outraged,” Stewart said. “Bottom line, another black youth, another youngster, will not be able to graduate, not be able to go to college, not be able to become an asset in his community.”
Stewart was an officer in the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department for 30 years, and he said police need more training.
“He didn’t think. He was caught up in the moment, and he pulled his gun, and fired. Three shots,” Stewart said.
The Greensburg-Jeannette chapter has been talking with the Pittsburgh chapter about next steps, President Ruth Tolbert said.
“This young man had a whole life ahead of him, and just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time it’s done,” Tolbert said. “It’s over with.”
Tolbert said the shooting is typical of the way black men are treated by law enforcement.
“It’s typical they don’t get to give their side of the story,” Tolbert said. “Everybody is grouped into one stereotype.”
B-PEP and the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence are also asking for that a countywide citizens review board be created to examine such incidents, focusing not on the Allegheny County Police, but on the police departments of the boroughs, townships and cities within the county.
“In the last 21 years, we have worked unceasingly to establish a record of credibility,” – Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of Pittsburgh citizens police review board
— Theresa Clift (@tclift) June 21, 2018
The creation of such a board would likely require the councils of those municipalities and for Allegheny County Council to adopt ordinances, said Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, which was founded in 1997.
“The checks and balances are what this comes down to, and when they’re out of whack, this is what happens,” Pittinger said.
Stevens praised the Pittsburgh police, Mayor Bill Peduto, police Chief Scott Shubert and former police Chief Cameron McClay for their efforts in recent years to work on police-community relationships.
“We have been blessed in recent years in Pittsburgh that such needless deaths of our young African American men have not occurred, and hope and pray that the pattern continues,” the letter said.
The city police still have work to do, but county’s other municipalities should follow the city’s lead, Stevens said.
He hopes Rose’s death can serve as an opportunity for change.
Several other state require all police shootings be investigated at the state level, Stevens said. In Wisconsin, all fatal police shootings are investigated at the state level by the Division of Criminal Investigation, within the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
In Connecticut, officer-involved shootings are investigated by the appropriate State’s Attorney, under the supervision of the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, a spokesperson said.
Last year, the Philadelphia City Council decided the investigation of a black man fatally shot by a police officer from behind would be investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. The Philadelphia officer was fired, but charges have not been filed, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported this month.
Jacob Tierney contributed to this report. Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.