Around 60 people gathered for a rally in Malcolm X Park in the Garden Court neighborhood of West Philadelphia on Sunday to stand in solidarity with Antwon Rose, an unarmed 17-year-old who was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer after he fled a traffic stop almost two weeks ago.
Various activists spoke to the crowd. They had a range of demands: convict the officer (who has been charged with criminal homicide); remove the judge from the case because he had allegedly used a racial slur at an airport because of his luggage being torn; disarm police officers; and abolish the police.
Philadelphia organizer Robert Saleem Holbrook said he and fellow activists decided to show their support soon after seeing the protests in Pittsburgh.
“When we see people from Pittsburgh hitting the street every night, putting forth demands on the district attorney and on the police, we felt as though we had to do something to contribute to their fight out there,” he said.
Warehouse worker Eric Coffey, who lives close to Malcolm X Park, says he came to the rally because this is yet another in a series of similar incidents. Rose was the 490th person shot and killed by a police officer in the United States in 2018, according to a Washington Post database.
“It’s basically the same stories, and the same old way of murder that’s happening a lot with a lot of people of color by police officers,” Coffey said.
Activist Crystal Evans, who came from Arlington, Virginia to speak at the rally, credits the activists in Pittsburgh for getting the district attorney to charge the police officer involved with criminal homicide.
That wasn’t the case for her uncle Khalil Lawal, who was shot by an off-duty police officer more than ten times in Philadelphia in January after Lawal allegedly intentionally hit a pedestrian with his car, then charged at the officer.
“We remained silent in hopes that we would wait to see what the DA’s office was going to do, because we believe that Larry Krasner ran his campaign on the fact that he was going to address these issues,” Evans says. “This is the first officer-involved shooting under Larry Krasner and so we’re just interested in seeing, in holding him accountable.”
Evans questions why Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has not acted on Lawal’s case, when she says the police department told her they have completed their internal investigation.
DA spokesperson Ben Waxman says Lawal’s case is still under investigation. He added that even if the police department has completed their investigation, it does not mean the DA’s office is ready to act.
Other activists at the rally for Antwon Rose called for broader, more systemic action. Candace McKinley, an organizer with Black Lives Matter in Philadelphia, says the many cases of unarmed black people being shot by police officers require radical change.
“I’m tired of just seeing band aids when people are being killed by police, being brutalized by police, and just locked up at alarming rates,” she said.
For example, she says the Philadelphia Police Department adopting body-worn cameras won’t prevent more fatal shootings, and civilian review boards do not have any teeth.
She points to other parts of the world, where police officers are trained in de-escalation and do not carry guns. In 2015, four Swedish police officers on vacation in New York made headlines for breaking up a subway fight between two homeless men.
McKinley says those police officers talked to the men who were fighting and asked if they were alright, which she says is different from how a U.S. officer would have handled the situation.
In Iceland, many people own guns, but police officers are not armed most of the time.
Local activist Megan Malachi went further, calling for the abolition of police departments.
“It is not justice when a young boy is shot in the back three times after running away that a cop is convicted; it is justice when that cop no longer has the ability to shoot our people down in the street like dogs,” she said.
The preliminary hearing for Michael Rosfeld, the officer involved in the Pittsburgh case, is scheduled for July 6, and the speakers at the rally say there will be more action in Philadelphia and nationally on July 12 — Antwon Rose’s birthday.