Woman arrested at protest Friday was ready to go to jail for Antwon Rose
After a nine-hour protest, Ciora Thomas ended her night sitting on a Port Authority bus alone at 3 a.m.
Thomas, 29, of Homestead was the only person arrested by state police after a marathon protest that started in East Pittsburgh and shut down the Parkway East for hours Thursday evening and early Friday.
The demonstration, which grew to 150 people at its peak, capped a day of protests following an East Pittsburgh officer’s killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose on Tuesday. Authorities say Rose was unarmed and fleeing a car stopped by police when Officer Michael Rosfeld shot him in the back.
Police found two guns in the car, which they suspected was involved in a non-fatal shooting 13 minutes earlier.
At around 2 a.m. Friday, police warned the remaining protesters to clear the Parkway East in five minutes or be arrested. The major highway sees nearly 100,000 vehicles a day and had been closed for nearly 51⁄2 hours at that point.
Police in riot gear closed in.
Everyone left except Thomas.
“The cop approached me and put his club in my chest and pushed me back,” Thomas told the Tribune-Review on Friday. “I took a step back, and then I stood my ground. Then he pushed me again and another cop grabbed my wrist. They put plastic handcuffs on me.”
The officers then led her to a Port Authority bus, told her she would receive papers in the mail charging her with disorderly conduct, and drove her home in a police car, she said.
She was prepared to be arrested.
“I don’t have anything to lose,” said Thomas, who leads SisTers PGH, which helps transgender people find housing in the region. “I don’t have kids; I don’t have a family; I don’t have to go home to anyone or answer to anyone, and a lot of people out there did.
“The other part of me was saying, ‘Damn, I’m the only one out here.'”
She knew going to jail was a possibility.
“I know my community won’t let me be in jail long, so it was like whatever, let’s go,” she said. “It’s for Antwon and for black liberation in Pittsburgh.”
Black Lives Matter protests have shut down freeways across the country in recent years but never the Parkway East, the main artery between Pittsburgh and the eastern suburbs, said Brittani Murray, also a member of SisTers PGH.
“Taking down a major vein of the city that leads to extended commerce and has economic effects is the best way to get a message across,” Murray said.
PennDOT and state police coordinated to direct and divert traffic as the protest moved, said Steve Cowan, a spokesman for the state transportation agency.
The state police did not return calls and emails seeking comment about how it responded to the moving protest.
Cowan said PennDOT’s tunnel maintenance manager alerted other agency officials as the protest was moving to the parkway.
State police handled inbound traffic. PennDOT diverted outbound traffic and closed the outbound lanes of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.
The original plan for Thursday was to protest outside of East Pittsburgh police headquarters, similar to a demonstration Wednesday night, said Brandi Fisher, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Alliance for Police Accountability, one of the organizations leading the protest.
The protest started at 6 p.m., but then as officers started to block off the roadway to incoming traffic, people were having a hard time getting to the protest to join in, Fisher said. The group decided to mobilize.
The group walked down Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills around 9 p.m., with people joining along the way. Then it made its way on to the parkway with about 150 people.
The group was planning to do a freeway protest at some point, but the decision to do it Thursday was spontaneous, Fisher said.
“I think it was very effective,” Fisher said. “The whole point is to be disruptive and try to bring attention to it.”
Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.
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