STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Weeks of protest in a Pittsburgh suburb focus on what happened in just a few seconds. On June 19, police pulled over a car. Two young men fled on foot, and they'd gone only a few steps when an officer opened fire.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUN FIRING)
INSKEEP: Video shows 17-year-old Antwon Rose, an African-American in a white shirt, tumbling to the ground. East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld has been charged with criminal homicide, but protests have continued in and beyond the suburb as demonstrators demand a conviction. One of those demonstrators is Reverend Shanea Leonard, who attended the teenager's funeral.
SHANEA LEONARD: He was definitely a young person of good nature and good character. One of his poems that he shared was just so deep and moving that it showed that he was a person of insight.
INSKEEP: What did the poem say? Do you remember any part of it?
LEONARD: I am scared and afraid and that I'm not what you think and that basically I'm trying to figure life out and that I'm not a stereotype. But I'm looking to find my way. And in today's society, I'm scared and afraid is a paraphrase.
INSKEEP: That was the theme of the poem.
INSKEEP: So Antwon Rose was shot, and it's captured on video on June 19. Just over a week later, the officer is charged, and there's supposed to be a preliminary hearing. It's been delayed to the end of the month. But the process is working. I could see someone in authority saying, what are you protesting about given that the process is working here?
LEONARD: Well, we're protesting about a couple of things. No. 1, there was no charge brought initially. And so that's when the initial unrest in the city started. And so it was looking like, and it's still looking like, another case of police brutality that was going to go unchecked, and there would be no justice for Antwon. Once we heard a charge was made and he turned himself in, the problem now is that he's out on bond, and he was charged with criminal homicide. And he's supposed to be on house arrest. He's not even at his house.
INSKEEP: Have you gone by his house to see if he's there?
LEONARD: I have. We were out in a peaceful, peaceful rally in front of his home until about 11:15 at night, and he was not there.
INSKEEP: Because the lights were out, that's how you're saying that you think he's not in there.
LEONARD: There was no movement. The lights were out. There was no car. There was no nothing.
INSKEEP: Now, I'm thinking about how his lawyer might respond if we were talking with his lawyer. The lawyer might point out, hey, people are bailed out all the time. If you can make bail, that's how it is in the United States. What makes this a special case for you?
LEONARD: What makes this a special case for us is that this is an unjustified murder. And if he was anyone else, he would not be out. This is not right. This is not justice.
INSKEEP: You know, one other question occurs to me. You've got a very small community there on the edge of Pittsburgh. You've got a very small local police department. Have the other members of the police department reached out to the community in any way?
LEONARD: It's interesting you would say that. I was in a meeting with our police chief here and several members of law enforcement around the area. And I will just say that it was a less than productive meeting in that we are at an impasse.
INSKEEP: What did the chief say, and what did everybody else say?
LEONARD: We're basically saying that when you come to our protests, when you come to our rallies and you show up in riot gear and we don't feel protected by you but yet feel threatened by you, that you continue to perpetuate the distance and a disconnect between black folks and the police department.
INSKEEP: Well, now we've got two different issues because it's a question of how do they police a protest - and you've got issues there obviously - but then there's the underlying question of whether police are dealing with African-Americans, other people of color, fairly on a day-to-day basis. Did you hear the chief acknowledged that there was a problem there or something at least worth looking into?
LEONARD: No. No. He never made an outright statement about that. And that's part of our issue. One of the things we're asking is that why has there not been any other police force in the area, even Pittsburgh police, that have said, you know what? I know that it's our policy for blue to stand with blue, but this was not right. Something as simple as saying a public statement of this is not right would show a level of trust from the community that has not been there.
INSKEEP: Reverend Shanea Leonard of East Pittsburgh, Pa. Now, to follow up on a few things here - the status of the officer's house arrest is not clear. We're checking into that. East Pittsburgh authorities did put out a statement expressing profound sorrow at the death of Antwon Rose and saying, quote, "we acknowledge the serious allegations directed at our management of the Borough Police Department." Finally, the city of Pittsburgh has also answered criticism of the way it has been policing protests, saying protective gear comes out only when police officers feel they are in danger. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.