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Businessman’s inflammatory billboard after policeman’s acquittal in killing of black teenager triggers backlash — March 2019

Worthington, PA

An East Pittsburgh police officer was acquitted in the 2018 killing of a black teenager — Antwon Rose — on March 22, 2019. Like other such verdicts around the United States in recent years, in which white police officers have been acquitted of charges arising out of their shooting of young African Americans, this one triggered a public outcry, especially in the Pittsburgh area. Days after the acquittal,  John Placek, a resident of Worthington, PA, a small borough 40 miles outside of Pittsburgh, put up a billboard displaying photos of Rose and the officer with a caption reading, in part, “Justice Served, Get over it.” The billboard drew immediate and intense criticism.

Key Players

A lifelong resident of Armstrong County, PA, John Placek owns a gas station outside Worthington. Placek also owns a digital billboard located on the side of the highway at the entrance to the town, on which he regularly displays various messages — some mundane, others controversial.

Further Details

Antwon Rose II and a friend were pulled over by Officer Michael Rosfeld on June 19, 2018. The car matched the description of a vehicle involved in a drive-by shooting that had occurred just minutes earlier. Unarmed, Rose ran away from Rosfeld, who proceeded to shoot him three times. Rosfeld, who is white, was charged with criminal homicide, but was acquitted on all counts at his trial. The acquittal prompted demonstrations throughout the Pittsburgh vicinity.

On March 24, Placek displayed a message on his billboard, reading “Legal System Works, Justice Served, Get over it”, with a photo of Rosfeld captioned “Policeman” and a photo of Rose captioned “Criminal.”

Outcome

Placek shunned for billboard, suffers economic consequences, claims he was misunderstood

Placek drew intense criticism for the display. After images of the billboard circulated on social media, many called for it to be removed. At least two local fuel suppliers, including Sunoco, have cut business ties with Placek, according to reports by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Placek is considering closing his business, and the owners of a Subway restaurant adjacent to his gas station are working to cut ties with him after seeing drastic declines in sales.

Placek believes he is exercising his Free Speech rights, he told the Tribune-Review.

Through display of the billboard, he claims, he was looking to spark a conversation about race and racism. “This is what I was after: A grassroots movement to talk about the most important and destructive thing in our society, race and racism,” Placek said.

External References:

Armstrong County billboard featuring Antwon Rose, Michael Rosfeld spark controversy on social media, WTAE-TV

Armstrong County billboard owner on controversy: “I will not give in’, TribLive

Antwon Rose Shooting: White Police Officer Acquitted in Death of Black Teenager, New York Times

Prepared by James Moore-Carrillo ‘22

Uploaded to tracker May 13, 2019