Antwon Rose’s mother stood Sunday afternoon on the Rankin basketball court where her son spent much of his childhood and said she still could picture him shooting hoops.
“This was definitely his spot right here,” Michelle Kenney said. “If you was looking for Antwon, you’d find him on the basketball court.”
She thanked a group of several dozen people — men, women and children, family members, neighbors and activists — who gathered at the court inside the Hawkins Village public housing complex where she lives to pay tribute to her son, Antwon Rose II. The gathering took place two days after a former East Pittsburgh police officer who shot and killed him was acquitted of homicide charges.
A large white banner with bold purple lettering clung to the fence that read, “HE WAS SEVENTEEN.”
White candles flickered at the court’s center circle, which was adorned by red and white flowers.
“These supporters put this together while I was asleep. I haven’t slept in I don’t know how long. And after the verdict was read, I literally went home and I collapsed,” Kenney said. “Whether he (Michael Rosfeld) was convicted or not, he murdered my son.”
Kenney said the outpouring of support and showings of solidarity for Antwon and her family give her hope and strength.
“If this small amount of people can put this thing together in 24 hours, can you imagine what we could do to change the world,” she said.
Following Friday night and Saturday’s protest marches along thoroughfares in the city’s Downtown, Hill District and East Liberty neighborhoods, organizers and Rose’s family members called for a quieter day of vigils in the name of healing.
“Of course as a community we’re very angry, we’re very upset. Folks expressed that on Friday and Saturday,” said Jasiri X, an artist and CEO of 1Hood Media, which organizes artists and activists around social justice issues. “We wanted to just take this day and make it a healing space. We wanted to be able to love on one another, love on the family, honor and recognize Antwon.”
Shortly after 2 p.m., the vigil began at Hawkins Village with a prayer and a moment of silence.
Participants formed a ring around the basketball court’s center circle and joined hands.
Kenney kept her composure until the crowd began to recite in unison a poem that Antwon wrote for an honors English class when he was in 10th grade.
In part, the poem reads, “I see mothers bury their sons. I want my mom to never feel that pain. I am confused and afraid.”
Before the poem was over, Kenney broke into tears.
She wiped her face as organizers rolled out a large painting of Antwon serving as a makeshift memorial.
Family members consoled her and escorted her off the court.
“What’s sad is that in cases like this, as black people, we’re just dehumanized,” Jasiri said. “Obviously if you can’t shoot someone running in the back, you don’t see them, their humanity. … Antwon is more than a 30-second incident.”
Four-year-old Kychelle said she misses Antwon, who was her uncle. She wore a heart-shaped necklace with his photo and a T-shirt calling him her hero.
Sheila Brookins said that Antwon’s death has been heartbreaking for residents at the Hawkins Village complex. She lived a few units down from the former Woodland Hills High School student and recalled how he’d always greet her with a big toothy smile and never hesitate to help her carry groceries or take out the garbage.
“Antwon was really well-respected, real loving and caring. He could be on the basketball court, I’d say, ‘Antwon! Antwon!’ He’d run over (and say), ‘Miss Sheila, you need help?’ “ she said.
“People didn’t know him. You can’t judge somebody by who they’re with. … He was very smart, very intelligent. I’d never seen him get mad. He was fun-loving, he liked to joke. He was a beautiful kid, just beautiful.”
Before the vigil began, Kenney cautioned any police departments from hiring Rosfeld. She said that if another jurisdiction gives him a uniform, “somebody else’s mother is going to be sitting in my shoes.”
The rally was one of at least two community events Sunday.
About 50 people turned out for a prayer vigil at Warren United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. While religious leaders prayed for a community reeling from Rosfeld’s acquittal, they also prayed for the former East Pittsburgh officer who shot and killed Rose.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, our hearts are heavy and our souls are weary,” Rev. Dawn M. Hand, an Allegheny County United Methodist district superintendent, told the group.
Hand, who is black, added, “We fight for justice, and yet we feel it’s just us.”
It was a diverse crowd that gathered: black and white, young and old and at least two police officers dressed in uniform.
“When justice is denied one, justice is denied all,” Rev. Paul D. Taylor, who is a retired superintendent, told attendees.
In his prayer, Taylor said the community was “carrying boxes of tears” to God.
Following an hour of prayer and worship, attendees lit candles outside the church along Centre Avenue and sang songs.
“We are meant to be light and love to a community in need,” Hand said.