The shooting of an unarmed teenager by a Pennsylvania police officer is the latest in an ongoing, high-emotion spate of police-involved shootings that have plagued U.S. cities and created rifts between cops and the communities they serve.
Antwon Rose, 17, was shot three times Tuesday night and killed after he and another passenger fled from a car stopped by police in East Pittsburgh. Police say the car was possibly used in a non-fatal shooting 15 minutes earlier.
Officers found two semi-automatic handguns on the floor of the car. Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said he was confident the car pulled over by East Pittsburgh police was involved in the incident, noting that a back window had been shot out.
But a cellphone video capturing the incident has contributed to local outrage because it shows an officer firing at Rose as he tried to sprint away from officers.
The video, watched by USA TODAY, shows a person fleeing from a vehicle stopped by a group of police. Three shots ring out as another figure also runs away from cops.
Both figures were hidden from view behind a home at the conclusion of the video.
“Why are they shooting at him? … All they did was run,” a voice off camera says.
Debra Jones told the Associated Press her voice is the one caught on the video.
When the two passengers took off, “That officer didn’t try to chase them or taze them. He just shot that boy for running,” she said. “I looked out my kitchen window and they were putting him in handcuffs. He wasn’t moving. I think that boy died right there on the side of my house.”
While authorities asked for time to complete an investigation, local protests erupted Wednesday in pockets around the city. About 60 people gathered Wednesday in East Pittsburgh to protest, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The officer involved in the shooting has not been named by authorities, but had been hired in mid-May and sworn in just hours before the shooting, East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis Payne said, the newspaper reported.
Officers “seem to have disregarded the basic humanity of this boy when they chose to use lethal force,” Reggie Shuford, the executive director of the American Civli Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, told the Post-Gazette.
“While we await more details of what happened, it appears through the cell phone video that the victim was running away from the police. Our heart breaks for the family of the victim, and we express our deepest condolences to them,” Shuford said.
The driver of the vehicle, a 20-year-old man, was taken into custody and released after McDonough said officers did not feel they had cause to charge him in the earlier shooting.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Rose had been volunteering at the Free Store 15104 in Braddock each summer since 2015, according to founder Gisele Fetterman, the wife of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.
“He was just a really lovely, gentle kid,” Gisele Fetterman told the newspaper at a World Refugee Day event in Market Square on Wednesday. “His mom is amazing. All the kids loved him. Just a fine person. Bubbly. Funny. Goofy. Just really special.”
Deadly police shootings across the U.S. of unarmed citizens have sparked some of the most volatile national protests in recent years, with many departments adopting stricter use-of-force policies and increased use of body cameras on officers. Many of the cases involve African-American suspects being chased by police. A recent USA TODAY investigation showed that in hundreds of fatal shootings since 1999, black suspects were killed at a disproportionate rate in pursuits every year.
Deadly pursuits of black drivers were twice as likely to start over minor offenses or non-violent crimes, USA TODAY found. Black people were more likely than whites to be chased in more crowded urban areas, during peak traffic hours and with passengers in their cars, all factors that can increase the danger to innocent bystanders. Chases of black motorists were about 70 percent more likely to wind up killing a bystander.
The Pittsburgh case comes amid remarkable national tumult over police tactics that increasingly are seen as targeting minorities. Deadly encounters over the past four years between officers and black men sparked unrest from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore and Charlotte, and raised difficult questions about why black people are stopped, searched, arrested and shot by the police at higher rates than others.
One of the cases of a fleeing suspect shot by police that sparked the most national outrage happened in South Carolina in 2015, when Walter Scott, 50, bolted from his car after being pulled over during a routine traffic stop. North Charleston police officer Michael Slager was captured on a cell phone video, fatally shooting Scott in the back as he ran away.
The shooting erupted after Slager pulled Scott’s car over for a broken brake light. Scott initially ran from the officer, who tried to use a Taser on him before the pair struggled on the ground. As Scott fled a second time, Slager fired at him eight times.
The case sparked national attention amid a series of shooting incidents across the country involving white police officers and unarmed black men. Slager eventually pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Contributing: Associated Press
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