Antwon Rose could have been my student.
I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts in a district located minutes away from where the 17-year-old was shot and killed by police.
East Pittsburgh, the neighborhood where his car was stopped and where he ran from officers before being shot three times in the back, is minutes from my house.
He went to Woodland Hills School District, minutes from my house.
Michael Rosfeld, the officer who just started working at East Pittsburgh less than two hours before he shot and killed Antwon, had been fired with cause from his previous job as a security officer at the University of Pittsburgh, where I got both my graduate and undergraduate degrees and where my wife works.
The poem Antwon wrote about not wanting to become another statistic that was read aloud at a protest was the product of an assignment I give my own classes.
So I say again – he could have been my student.
I have had many children like him.
Most of my kids are like him.
Promising, smart, burdened by fears no teenager should have to face.
When I look at the smiling picture of Antwon released to the media, he looks like so many others I have known and loved.
How many kids have passed before me worried that they’ll be the victims of police violence?
How many kids have sat in those seats trying to concentrate on my work while anxious about the reality of the streets they have to walk just to get home?
How many kids have been afraid that if the worst happens, the rest of us will forget their humanity?
I am a white teacher. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a black person in America except by extension of what my kids and others tell me.
When my daughter goes to school or plays in the yard, I don’t have to worry the police will consider her a threat simply because of the amount of melanin in her skin.
But I do see how white people like me blame a 17-year-old kid for his own death.
If he hadn’t been in that car, he’d still be alive. If he hadn’t run from police, they wouldn’t have shot.
Maybe. Maybe not.
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But being in the wrong place at the wrong time shouldn’t bring with it a death sentence. Running away shouldn’t bring with it the finality of the grave.
Yesterday Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide. That’s a good start.
But plenty of questions remain.
Rosfeld is still on unpaid leave. Why hasn’t he been arrested?
Civil rights writer Shaun King reports that when Rosfeld worked at the University of Pittsburgh, he had a history of harassing black students and was only let go after he harassed one of the chancellor’s own children. If true, was that reported to East Pittsburgh before they hired him?
Why is it police can apprehend white shooters with no violence, but when a suspect is black the rules of engagement start and end with bloodshed?
Protests have rocked this city for two days and will continue today.
And I’m glad.
We need answers to those and more questions. We need justice for Antwon.
But more than anything we need to recognize that he was a human being.
He was a little boy with his whole life ahead of him.
His life matters.
I don’t say “mattered” because even though he’s gone, his life still matters.
We can’t bring him back, but we can honor who he was.
We can recognize his common humanity is the same as anyone else’s.
We can give him and his family justice.
And we must – we MUST – make sure that things like this don’t happen again.
At absolute minimum, the hand holding it shouldn’t belong to someone tasked with the job to serve and protect.