But why did he run? (Part 1 of 2)

antwonroseOn Tuesday, June 19th, Antwon Rose was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh.  He was 17.  He was Black.  And he was unarmed.

Vox and the New York Times both have good summaries of the facts.  (If you are more of a Fox News person, their article is okay, but not quite complete.)

Here are the facts of this case:

  • Antwon Rose was running away from the police after the car in which he was a passenger was stopped, because it matched the description of a car that had been involved in a fatal shooting earlier that evening. (There is bystander video of Antwon fleeing the scene with his back to the officers when he was shot.  This fact is not currently being disputed by the Pittsburgh Police.)
  • Antwon was unarmed, but police did recover an unused clip of ammunition from his pocket.
  • Two firearms were recovered from the car in which Antwon was riding; however the driver of the car was released by police. (I personally conclude that this means the firearms were registered and that no other charges were pending, but I have also not independently verified that.)
  • The officer who shot Antwon was sworn onto the Pittsburgh Police force hours before the shooting, but he had previously worked in suburban police forces for several years prior.

The officers had no evidence that Antwon (or the others in the vehicle) were involved in any crime.  The question that I keep hearing over and over again is, “But why did he run?”

Why did he run?  Because he was a 17 year old Black teenager pulled over by police.

I can provide the researchI can tell you the facts.  I can even debate with you over alternative interpretations of the data.

What I can’t do is to make you understand the reality of living a life in a body that is instinctively seen as a threat.  I can’t possible understand that reality myself, but I know that it is true.  I know that it is true, because when I see a Black man approach me on a sidewalk, my instinct is fear – and every day I have to fight that instinct, knowing that I might not be personally to blame for the existence of that fear, but I am responsible for not acting on it.

Why did he run? 

Maybe Antwon ran because he knew that Philando Castile was shot while he sat in a car with his girlfriend and her daughter, for doing nothing more than reaching for his driver’s license.  Maybe Antwon ran because he knew that Kalief Browder was held in jail for 3 years awaiting trial for stealing a backpack (a crime for which there was no evidence and he was ultimately found not guilty), because the criminal justice system was never designed to provide justice for boys that look like him.  Maybe Antwon ran because there were firearms in the car, and if 12 year old Tamir Rice can be killed for a toy gun, it’s not a stretch to think that he might face the same fate.

And maybe Antwon ran because he was a scared, 17 year old kid who was just afraid of getting into trouble.  Maybe he was a teenager who made a mistake.  Maybe he was a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The maybes don’t matter.  What does matter is that regardless of why he ran, he did not deserve to die.