EAST PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The morning after Antwon Rose Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer, 5-year old Clark Cannon hunched over his bowl of Lucky Charms and told his mother what was on his mind.
“I heard all the gunshots,” he said, his mother, Ashley Cannon, recalled.
She had previously told Clark and his three brothers why they see people like them on the news — young, black boys and men killed by police in Ferguson, Cleveland, Sacramento.
And now: East Pittsburgh, just yards away from their home, on Grandview Avenue.
“It’s scary raising young black men in this climate,” Cannon told The Washington Post on Saturday, as her youngest son, Beaux, 16 months, blew bubbles on their porch in the tiny borough 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
The killing of Rose, 17, who was black, has thrust this community into the national discussion about the role of race in policing, highlighting the problems that can arise when the relationship between residents and the officers tasked with protecting them deteriorates.
In this borough measuring less than a half a square mile, residents once addressed officers by their first names. But high turnover in the police department and a growing reliance on part-timers — who are working with fewer resources and earning meager pay — mean the faces behind the badges have become increasingly unfamiliar.
And although East Pittsburgh has become more racially diverse, the police force hasn’t brought on more African American officers, residents say.
Rose, who lived in the nearby borough of Rankin, was unarmed and running away when he was shot by East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, who is white, on June 19. Police suspected that a car that Rose and two others were in had been involved in a drive-by shooting that left one man injured.
Police later found two firearms in the vehicle, along with a pistol clip on Rose. The incident remains under investigation, and Rosfeld, 30, was placed on administrative leave.
Allegheny County police are investigating the shooting.
Rose’s death led to days of protests drawing hundreds of demonstrators in mostly peaceful gatherings. Most of the demonstrations have been in Pittsburgh, while this borough and the tiny neighboring communities have quietly contended with Rose’s death and what it means about their relationships with the revolving door of police officers who walk the streets of their neighborhoods.
In East Pittsburgh, which has fewer than 2,000 residents, Mayor Louis J. Payne lives only about 700 feet from the scene of the shooting. Police Chief Lori Fruncek lives a few blocks away.
Both, presumably, could have heard the three sharp cracks of gunfire slice through the air.
Rosfeld was hired in East Pittsburgh in mid-May as a part-time officer, authorities have said. Eight patrolmen are on the force, including Rosfeld, according to the force’s website.
He was a part-time officer in nearby Oakmont from 2011 to 2013, and was also a part-time officer for eight months in 2012 in Harmar Township. He took a full-time position at the University of Pittsburgh for eight years, ending in December.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he left after an incident in December involving a bar fight, where collected evidence did not match his sworn statement. The University of Pittsburgh declined to say whether he quit or was fired.
There is no state collection of data on officer misconduct, said Beth Pittinger, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, which investigates citizen complaints about officers in the city of Pittsburgh.
If there was misconduct that led to a departure, the university should have notified East Pittsburgh, Pittinger told The Post.
“When you don’t handle situations like this, then you’re moving the problem around,” she said.
Rosfeld could not be reached for comment by phone or at his residence in Verona, Pa., about 10 miles north of East Pittsburgh. Payne and Fruncek did not respond to multiple calls, emails and visits to their offices and residences seeking comment.
Cannon, a chef who has lived in East Pittsburgh her whole life, said officers were once fixtures in the community and worked more consistent, full-time schedules.
But now, “there is no relationship with the community,” said Cannon, who is biracial.
Her husband, Michael Cannon, 32, a 15-year resident and city public works employee, agreed.
“The quality of work is awful,” he said. “This just blows me away.”
The Cannons say the county police should replace the local force. They have resources such as body cameras that could help increase accountability, they said. Rosfeld did not have a body camera or a vehicle camera, police said.
Community members here have noted the demographic shift in the population without a corresponding change in the police force.
East Pittsburgh was about 76 percent white and 21 percent black in 2000, according to city data. In 2010, it was closer to 50-50.
There was one well-liked biracial female police officer in recent memory, but she left for another borough, said Ashley Cannon. Now the officers she sees are white.
That includes a close encounter with Rosfeld.
Last month, around the time Rosfeld was hired, the Cannons saw Rosfeld agitated and tense outside following a domestic-disturbance call at a neighbor’s house.
The neighbor, Amir Clemons, told The Post that his friend’s wife had a mental breakdown and that someone called police to help.
At least four patrol officers arrived, and Rosfeld aggressively questioned Clemons, 33. An officer pulled him aside to de-escalate the situation. The woman was taken to a hospital, Clemons said.
Clemons, who is black, said the episode of all white officers and Rosfeld’s conduct made him less likely to call police in an emergency.
Other black residents echoed those concerns. Jill Israel, who is black and has lived in East Pittsburgh for five years, said she is familiar with tense relationships between police and black citizens after growing up in Brooklyn.
Israel, 43, thought it over at the low-light Keystone Grill House on Saturday, just a few feet away from the police station.
Rose fled from the police out of fear, she speculated.
“We do know why you would want to run,” she said, pointing to racial tensions between African Americans and the police in some communities.
But not all residents of East Pittsburgh were ready to ascribe racism or race to the policing issue.
Rose’s death was a tragedy, David Pekarcik, 31, a lifetime resident of East Pittsburgh, said Sunday. But he thinks officers may have more aggressive postures when donning the uniform for so little compensation.
That, he said, must have been a factor.
“These are low-pay guys risking the same as the big-buck guys,” Pekarcik, who is white, told The Post. Part-time police officers make as little as $10.50 an hour in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported in 2015.
Rosfeld and Rose must have both been terrified, he said.
“How do you mend two groups of people who are scared of each other?”
Rose’s face was everywhere on the block around Tunie Funeral Home for his Sunday wake, appearing on T-shirts with slogans driving the twin expressions of grief and desire for justice.
One popular T-shirt said: “Always loved, never forgotten.” Another one appeared more common, and as a chant in protests: “Three shots to the back, how you justify that?”
On Monday, Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, spoke to ABC’s “Good Morning America” about her son and calls for justice ahead of his funeral.
“He murdered my son in cold blood,” Kenney said, referring to Rosfeld. “I think he should pay for taking my son’s life. I really do.”
Rose’s family could not be reached to comment.
Gisele Fetterman, who owns a community organization in Braddock where Rose volunteered, spoke at Rose’s funeral at Woodland Hills Junior High School in Swissvale, where he was once a student.
“He was a wonderful person and was loved and admired by many,” Fetterman told The Post afterward, and he “lived a good life.”
Fetterman grappled with what it means to live a good life that ended at 17.
“It’s tragic,” she said. “It shouldn’t repeat itself. But it will.”
Kimbriell Kelly, Keith L. Alexander and Justin Merriman contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article misstated the age of Clark Cannon, son of Michael and Ashley Cannon. He is 5, not 6. This version has been updated.