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After Rosfeld trial, activists call for change to use of force law

Written by An-Li Herring/WESA | Apr 15, 2019 4:24 PM
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Tim Stevens of the Black Political Empowerment Project discussed ideas for police reform at a news conference Monday, April 15, 2019. (An-Li Herring/WESA)

More than three weeks after former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was acquitted in the shooting death of Antwon Rose, local activists are stepping up demands for police reform.

"Many of us continue to feel that true justice was not achieved," Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said Monday of the "not guilty" verdict.

"Many of us feel," he continued, "that there are laws that are written to favor a police officer to the point that it appears that it is almost impossible to convict a police officer in the death of a citizen."

Stevens said Rosfeld's acquittal showed that Pennsylvania's police use-of-force law should be rewritten.

Rosfeld shot and killed Rose as the black, unarmed teen fled a car that was involved in an earlier drive-by shooting.

Under state law, officers may use deadly force when they believe someone has committed or tried to commit a forcible felony if they believe such force will help them make an arrest.

"This law provides far too much cover for a police officer who does not respect the awesome power that he has to take a life," said Stevens, who appeared with about ten other local activists.

The group supports a forthcoming bill that would allow deadly force only when life is at stake and non-lethal methods have failed. State Reps. Ed Gainey (D-Homewood) and Summer Lee (D-Swissvale) announced the measure last month, and Pittsburgh-area activists plan to rally in support of the measure in Harrisburg on April 30.

On Monday, activists presented recommendations for numerous other reforms. For example, they suggested the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police provide other municipal forces with implicit bias training, which seeks to make officers aware of how unconscious racial assumptions can have an impact on their actions. They also advocated for the consolidation of some of those smaller departments, with Stevens saying the move could "possibly provide financial savings to each of the participating police departments, as well as improved training and educational opportunities to all affected officers."

In addition, Stevens said an independent prosecutor, rather than the county district attorney, should have jurisdiction over future police shootings that result in death.

Stevens said he and other activists will promote their ideas through discussions with local police and elected officials.

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