Pittsburgh Put People First Statement on the Rosfeld Verdict March 2019

Thank you to Put People First Johnstown (March 27th) and Put People First Lancaster (March 29th) for holding vigils to lift up voices for Antwon Rose II, a teenager who had been shot in the back by a police officer last summer, and to call for justice for his family and for a just legal system.

It was wrong for the cop to walk away with no punishment; he and the legal system needs to be accountable. How can the system be said to have accountability if police walk away after shooting a 17-year old in the back? The cop can go back to work while Antwon is dead. What can the family do? Go to court to get compensation? There’s no price that can be paid to bring him back. Seen aside so many other similar cases in the country, this result shows that the lives of poor people of color are not valued and our rights as human beings are not defended. While this result was predictable, we believe it is wrong & shows the white supremacy of the systems of power.

We believe that white supremacy is the enemy of all poor people. It directly intimidates and hurts a large group of us – poor, working and dispossessed people of color. It divides us against each other to distract us from the powers that be and how they operate to control us through the economic & legal systems. It is also built to control poor, working and dispossessed white people. This unjust system tries to bribe us into thinking our safety lies with the powers that be, although when we talk to each other and reflect on what we have in common and how the current system hurts us all, we know that is not true.

We are sad, we are angry, we are grieving. Something needs to be done. This injustice is happening everywhere and there’s typically no consequences for the police. People in poor communities can’t trust the police for anything & don’t want to call them, for instance if someone breaks into your house, because they might come for you; you don’t know what will happen. We’re not safe.

What can we do about it? Members of Put People First believe that the only force that can end structural racism is poor, dispossessed & working people taking action together. We must work together to change the system. Our needs are our rights, and public safety, a just legal system and freedom from police violence, is a need and a right. We must build strong personal and political relationships across color lines and engage in political action that understands the history of racism. Unity involves putting what we have in common to the front, not erasing differences.

With that in mind, we welcome a serious discussion in our communities of the demands by the students who have shown leadership and have led actions following the verdict:

  1. Justice for Antwon Rose II
  2. Fire the FOP President
  3. Get rid of DA Stephen Zappala
  4. Full community control and democratic oversight over the police! Strengthen the Allegheny County Police Review Board by making it democratically elected and giving it the power to hire and fire, issue binding recommendations, and approve or deny police department funding requests.
  5. Convict and sentence killer cops. End the policies which have led to mass incarceration of black youth and end the school to prison pipeline.
  6. No more Pittsburgh police inside of city schools. Fully fund public schools and youth job programs to give kids the resources they need.
  7. Environmental justice now! Clean air and water for all, especially the black and brown working class neighborhoods most impacted by corporate and institutional negligence.
  8. Black homes matter! Build more affordable housing and create protections for renters to address the increasing shortage of affordable quality housing and gentrification of black and brown working class neighborhoods.
  9. Build a mass movement of youth and workers to fight for a new system and a better world free of police violence, racism and white supremacy.
  10. Work towards the collective liberation of all people and a world where police and prisons are obsolete. Until black and brown folks are liberated, no one is.

To talk more with Put People First! PA members in Pittsburgh contact Barbara at bawhite2012@gmail.com.

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Johnstown Vigil in honor of Antwon Rose II and for those demanding justice

Put People Frist! PA’s Johnstown Healthcare Rights Committee and the Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies, both Johnstown based, organized a vigil in Johnstown’s Central Park on March 27, 2019 to stand in unity with the E. Pittsburgh family of Antwon Rose II and the many hundreds of high school and college students and community members taking to the streets in outrage.

On June 19, 2018 Seventeen year old Antwon Rose II, who is black, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a white East Pittsburgh policeman Michael Rosfeld. Officer Rosfeld was subsequently arrested and charged with homicide by Allegheny County prosecutors for shooting and killing Antwon Rose as Rose fled the scene during a traffic stop. On March 22 Rosfeld was acquitted on all counts in what many see as another act of police violence given a stamp of approval by the US court system.

The photo above (4 attendees not in pic) includes members of both sponsoring organizations as well at the Johnstown Branch NAACP and others from the Johnstown area.

The vigil included an opening introduction by Hope Marie Koss of PPF! PA and a repeated recital of Antwon’s name and age as well as singing of the song; Which Side Are You On My People? – Which Side Are You On?

The twenty-plus vigil participants stood in a circle in the center of the park and each participated in expressing their thoughts, deep concerns and insights about the Police killing of Antwon Rose II, the and the historically predictable verdict of “Not Guilty” for police shooting unarmed black men.   

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Alanah McLaughlin of PPF! PA reads a very touching poem about growing up black in America during the vigil which was written by Antwon Rose II in 2016, two years before he was killed by the E. Pittsburgh police last year. The poem read in part: “I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mom to never see that pain”.

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Pictured above, Rev. Calvin Hart and Laycee Norton of PPF! PA stand behind a poster with pictures of 17 yr. old Antwon Rose II (center),  twelve year old Timir Rice (left) and Elip Cheatham – then 27 years old (right – of Johnstown). Each was shot and killed by police, just three of many in the past five years alone.

Rev. Calvin later spoke offering in part; “this occasion has affected all of us in a psychological way and that is why we are here. This is a sad occasion because our hearts are aching and need ministry of comfort…”

Christine Dahlin of ‘Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies’ voiced her concerns about the need for “so much radical change in this country to fix it… I’m looking to the next election and going, OK we need some radical candidates because slow change isn’t going to work…we need reparations…”

Mustapha Triplin of PPF! PA was interviewed by WJAC-TV reporters.

…”just the act of shooting someone who is posing no threat – it’s barbaric!, its wrong!, it’s not something that should be tolerated in any way. Any judicial system that thinks that’s right is one that is not functioning correctly”.

Hope Marie Koss PPF! PA Johnstown HRC co-coordinator interviewed by WJAC-TV

…”in the last decade there are so many who have been killed by police violence and we need to stand against it and bring it to an end”.

Registration Open: PPF 2019 Leadership Institutes in York & Johnstown

The Leadership Institute is a one day inclusive and interactive learning experience. No prior experience in organizing or with Put People First! PA required. Join a welcoming group of working class people of many backgrounds and learn about our model of fusion organizing with the PA Poor People’s Campaign. We will be teaching our methods of poor people’s organizing, our strategy to make change happen, base building and research skills and our work to target profiteers like UPMC. Transportation, food, and childcare provided. Groups involved in the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival especially welcome to attend! This event is free. Light breakfast and lunch provided. Childcare available upon request.

Southwestern PA Leadership Institute

When: May 4th, 2019 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Where: 335 Locust St (St Marks Episcopal Church) Johnstown, PA 15901
Facebook event page here.

Click here to register for the Southwestern PA Leadership Institute.

South Central PA Leadership Institute

When: April 27th, 2019 9:30 AM through 4:30 PM
Where: 47 W Philadelphia St (Heidelberg United Church)
York, PA 17401
Facebook event page here.

Click here to register for the South Central PA Leadership Institute.

Put People First! PA to erase $1.5 million of medical debt in Western PA

WHO: Put People First! PA and RIP Medical Debt

WHAT: Campaign to Abolish Medical Debt in Western Pennsylvania

WHERE: Online at https://secure.qgiv.com/event/putpeoplefirst

WHEN: Launches April 2, 2019

Pittsburgh, PA— Put People First! PA, a statewide volunteer-based organization of poor and dispossessed working class people fighting for healthcare, is teaming up with RIP Medical Debt to abolish medical debt in 18 Western PA counties.

RIP Medical Debt is a national 501c3 nonprofit organization that uses donations to purchase bundled medical debt portfolios that have gone through collection agencies for months or years. Using third-party credit data providers, it targets debt incurred by people facing financial hardship, and then forgives it. For every $1 dollar raised, $100 in medical debt is abolished. Since 2014, RIP has relieved more than $450 million in medical debt for individuals across the U.S., impacting over 250,000 individuals.

Put People First! PA’s campaign to abolish medical debt in Western Pennsylvania will raise $15,000 to buy back and absolve $1.5 million of medical debt currently burdening over 1,700 people in the following counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Forrest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mercer, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland, Venango. Those who make less than 2 times the federal poverty level, have a debt that is 5% or more of their annual income, and/or who are insolvent will have their medical debt forgiven.

“We believe that no one should ever have to choose between getting the care they need and having a roof over their head, transportation or food to eat – not in the richest country in the world. Currently the powers that be believe profit for the healthcare industry is more important than our lives. Because we know what they’re going through, we want to relieve these families of their pain, and also show that a healthcare system that puts us into debt is immoral and needs to be replaced,” remarked Hope Koss of Johnstown, coordinator of the fundraising campaign.

Across the nation, and in Pennsylvania, medical debt is a leading cause of homelessness. The stress of debt and dealing with insurance companies and bill collectors makes health conditions worse. As just one example, last year the American Journal of Medicine reported that almost half of cancer patients drain their life’s assets within two years and are almost three times as likely to file for bankruptcy than those without cancer, which puts them at risk for early death.

You can donate and find out more at  https://secure.qgiv.com/event/putpeoplefirst. To get involved in organizing for healthcare rights in Pennsylvania visit www.putpeoplefirstpa.org