Jonny Gammage couldn’t breathe

Jonny Gammage, pictured in 1987. (Associated Press)

On Tuesday, an East Pittsburgh police officer killed an unarmed black teenager. The policeman, who has recently been identified as Officer Michael Rosfeld, shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose after he “bolted” from a car during a traffic stop, Allegheny County police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said Wednesday. A witness captured the incident on video.

In the last few years, the smartphone-camera video has become the iconography of police violence. Social media has become the homes of these eyewitness accounts, with vigilant Facebook or Twitter users documenting others’ encounters with law enforcement.

In 2016, when Officer Jeronimo Yanez of the St. Anthony police force in St. Paul, Minn., fatally shot Philando Castile, Diamond Reynolds — Mr. Castile’s girlfriend — broadcast the gruesome moments after the gunfire on Facebook Live. Officer Yanez was acquitted in the fatal shooting.

In 2014, when Eric Garner died in a police chokehold in Staten Island, N.Y., a bystander recorded the incident — the confrontation, the tackling, and the strained utterance that became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement: “I can’t breathe.” No charges were filed in the death.

There were no photographers present when Jonny Gammage, stopped for “erratically” driving a borrowed car, died in the custody of suburban police in 1995 on Route 51 in Brentwood. This is one of many ways in which his death was different from that of Antwon Rose. Mr. Gammage was 31 years old, while Antwon was 17. Mr. Gammage was from Syracuse, N.Y., a visitor to Pittsburgh, while Antwon was a native of the East Pittsburgh borough in which he was killed. Mr. Gammage died of asphyxiation, tackled to the ground in a confrontation that involved five police officers, while Antwon died by gunfire. But the story still feels familiar: a young black man left lifeless after an encounter with police, a community blown open by grief and outrage.

Hundreds of protesters gather in Market Square two weeks after the death of Jonny Gammage in October 1995. (Associated Press)

We don’t have footage of the moment Jonny Gammage died, but we do have pictures of the aftermath. Here are just a few images of the world he left behind.

In the days after Mr. Gammage’s death, the media documented moments of personal mourning and public collective action. These pictures were taken during the victim’s wake and burial in Syracuse.

Back in Pittsburgh, the local black community erupted in protest.

Two of the five officers, Shawn Henderson and Keith Patterson, did not face criminal charges. The other three, Milton Mulholland, Michael Albert, and John Vojtas, were charged with involuntary manslaughter. None were convicted.

In the wake of the Gammage verdict in November 1996, protesters march from the Allegheny County Courthouse to the Federal Building. (Lake Fong/Post-Gazette)
Jonny Gammage’s parents leave the courthouse after the criminal trial of Brentwood police officers was declared a mistrial in October 1996. (Martha Rial/Post-Gazette)

Marella Gayla is an intern at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a rising senior at Harvard. You can find her on Twitter @marellagayla.

4 Comments

  1. Mike Ference
    6/22/2018
    Reply

    A former mayor of a nearby town once told me that if Voytas wasn’t there Johnny Gammage would be alive today.

  2. Kate Hammill
    6/22/2018
    Reply

    You, sir, are misinformed. Mr. Gammage did absolutely NOTHING to deserve his fate. He was a black man driving a nice car–otherwise known as “driving while black”. Black and brown life has no meaning to you but I’m sure that you call yourself a christian and get upset when someone says “Happy Holiday”. The world evolves without folks like you.

  3. 6/22/2018
    Reply

    On the main story, in which Mr. Rose was shot in the back while running away from the police, I do not need any more information. The policeman committed a crime. You cannot use lethal force while you are in no danger whatsoever. This is true whether you wear a badge or not. Someone fleeing you does not pose danger to you. It is an execution. The courts and juries have the legal right to impose a sentence. Not a cop with a gun.

  4. Bill
    6/22/2018
    Reply

    He was murdered.
    If everyone was found innocent
    Who murdered him and why aren’t
    The police searching for him??

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