Activists Demand Changes to Pennsylvania’s Use of Force Law After Antwon Rose’s Death

More than 400 activists descended on the Pennsylvania Capitol to urge changes to the state’s use of force law. Several Democratic lawmakers are proposing a change that would prevent police officers from shooting at fleeing suspects. The demonstration came a month after a jury acquitted former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld in the shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II. On June 19, 2018, Rosfeld stopped a vehicle believed to be involved in a drive-by shooting. Rose, who was unarmed, ran from the scene and was fatally shot by Rosfeld. A jury found Rosfeld acted within the law when he shot at Rose and his friend Zaijuan Hester.

“We understand that it is legal to shoot a fleeing child in the back, but it’s time that we change the law,” State Representative Summer Lee (D-Allegheny) said during the rally on Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Lee, who will introduce a state bill to provide definitions for the use of deadly force, emphasized that the legislation being presented is not anti-police. “We want the best training for our police officers,” she said in a statement. “But we need accountability. We need to update and change the laws by which police operate to ensure our children come home at night.”

Current Pennsylvania law states that police officers are justified in using any force they believe necessary to defend themselves, or another, from bodily harm. Use of deadly force is justified when officers believe it is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to themselves or another, or if they believe the person has committed or attempted to commit a “forcible felony.”

Police officers have relied on laws justifying the use of force if they fear for their lives. Those who are charged with murder, a rare occurance, have been successfully aquitted by employing those laws. However, that defense failed former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor, who was convicted of murdering unarmed white woman Justine Damond.

Lee, who is part of the Legislative Black Caucus (LBC), will introduce the bill with Democratic Representative Ed Gainey (who also represents part of Allegheny County). Other bills by LBC members will require the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate incidents of deadly use of force by police; require law enforcement agencies to keep detailed reports of criminal, civil, and ethics complaints; prohibit the use of arbitration in matters of discipline for officers; and establish a statewide standard for training.

“I’m hoping that this bill will enable a police officer to be held accountable the same way any other individual who committed murder in the state of Pennsylvania would be,” Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, said of Lee and Gainey’s bill to KDKA.

“It didn’t have to be my son,” Kenney added, according to KDKA. “It didn’t have to be anybody’s son. This could have been done a long time ago.” While the bills have not yet been introduced, some state Republicans have already expressed concerns about changing the use of force, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Republicans hold the majority in the House and control which bills come up for a vote.

“It’s hard for us to try to legislate use of force in terms of these folks who are out there in law enforcement, putting their lives on the line every single day,” House Republican spokesman Mike Straub told the newspaper. “I think that at this point our members trust the people in power, the people leading law enforcement in their communities, to make decisions in the best interest of serving their communities.”

Straub said that some members in the Republican caucus are more open to discussing some of the other bills being proposed by the LBC. The rally ended after about an hour, but activists continued their work. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, activists split into smaller groups to visit the offices of all 253 state lawmakers.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.