The funeral for Antwon Rose Jr. took place Monday morning at Woodland Hills Intermediate School in Swissvale, a borough that sits several miles east of Pittsburgh. Like the East Pittsburgh borough where Rose was killed, Swissvale is one of at least a dozen different intersecting municipalities that Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs consist of. I went to high school in one (Penn Hills), taught in one (Wilkinsburg) and, earlier this year, hosted a fundraiser for a woman (Summer Lee) who lives in one (Braddock). The borders of these boroughs are so arbitrary and amorphous that, even for a Pittsburgh native, it’s difficult to distinguish when exactly you’re in which one.
Last week, Brentin Mock addressed the danger of this ubiquitous overlap. Many of these tiny boroughs have their own police forces. In the Greater Pittsburgh area, there are over 100 of them. And when you have that many departments—all with different standards and budgets and leaderships and loyalties—policing an area with frequent overlaps can (and does) lead to bad policing.
It also creates a dynamic that allows for more Michael Rosfelds.
Rosfeld is the East Pittsburgh cop who killed Antwon. He is 30 years old, reportedly lives in Penn Hills and was sworn into the East Pittsburgh Police Department the same day he killed Antwon.
Also, he shouldn’t have even had a badge.
The East Pittsburgh police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose II on Tuesday left his last job at the University of Pittsburgh police after authorities discovered discrepancies between the officer’s sworn statement and evidence in an arrest.
Officer Michael H. Rosfeld, 30, of Penn Hills, was then hired by East Pittsburgh police in mid-May and shot Antwon as the unarmed teenager ran away from a traffic stop, prompting local and national outrage. Investigators later found two guns in the car, which was stopped because Officer Rosfeld suspected it had just been involved in a shooting.
Officer Rosfeld gave a statement to Allegheny County police Friday. He is represented by attorney Patrick Thomassey, who declined to comment on this story.
Officer Rosfeld left the university police department on Jan. 18, about a month after the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office withdrew all charges he’d pressed against three men accused of fighting in a bar.
This is a (white) man who left one police department under suspicious circumstances. (He may have been fired, but that hasn’t been confirmed.) But within months, he was hired by a neighboring department and allowed to patrol the streets. Not even a year. Months.
White privilege is often dismissed as an academic concept with no basis in reality. Also, those searching for holes in it often point to both struggling white people and successful black people as proof of the term’s uselessness. How can white privilege be real if there are poor whites and wealthy blacks? What they refuse to realize—or, sometimes, pretend to refuse to realize—is that privilege is mostly about hindrance, and lack thereof.
What white privilege means, for white people, is that their whiteness hasn’t been a social, political, professional, financial or legal hindrance. They have the privilege of the benefit of the doubt, which manifests as the privilege to just be. In Rosfeld’s case, it manifests as a professional freedom of movement. He could hop from one department to the next—leaving under suspicious circumstances each time but never actually being considered suspect—because he is white and male.
Now, is it possible that Rosfeld would have had the same ability to move without judgment if he happened to black? Yes, it is possible. It exists somewhere on the near-infinite spectrum of things that could possibly happen. I’m more interested, however, in likelihoods. And the likelihood that more Michael Rosfelds will continue to be able to move from borough to borough, endangering populations and possibly even killing teenagers at each stop, is certain.