Robert "Saleem" Holbrook. LBW

Robert 'Saleem' Holbrook wears no rose-colored glasses on injustice

Injustice rots the justice system.


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Pragmatism and principle drive the strong support Robert "Saleem" Holbrook has for the scheduled July 12 National Day of Action for Antwon Rose.

Rose is yet another unarmed black youth slain during an encounter with a white policeman – shot in the back weeks ago in East Pittsburgh, Pa., a tiny town located nearly 300 miles west of the Philadelphia streets where Holbrook, a Latino, grew up.

That shooting of 17-year-old Rose triggered protests in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and beyond.

The pragmatic part of Holbrook’s support is easy to understand. It extends beyond solidarity with another victim of America’s abusive policing epidemic – that systemic scourge where accountability is sorely lacking.

“Police brutality is just as rampant in Latino communities as in black communities. Many times, due to language and culture, abuses in Latino communities escape attention,” Holbrook said, emphasizing the need to keep “attention” focused on police brutality.

Police across America fatally shot 179 Latinos, 223 blacks and 457 whites in 2017, according to one study.

Holbrook, a Philly-area resident who is a Policy Advisor for the Pittsburgh-based Amistad Law Project, noted that a policeman chasing a Latino “is just as likely to shoot” as if he was chasing a black.

“People should care about Antwon Rose because this could happen in North Philly, South Philly or the suburbs, Police brutality impacts black and brown people disproportionately.”

Last year a policeman in North Philadelphia did fatally shoot an unarmed man in the back. Years earlier, that same policeman shot another unarmed man in the back, leaving that man paralyzed. This fired-but-never-arrested policeman, who’s trying to get his police job back through arbitration, recently made news when he landed a job at the patronage-laden Philadelphia Parking Authority.

While authorities took unusual action in the Rose shooting, some business-as-usual aspects in that incident raise issues of principal (right vs. wrong) for Holbrook and many others.

Unusual for fatal police shootings, authorities have filed a criminal homicide charge against the policeman who shot Rose – Michael Rosfeld.

However, consistent with breaks too often extended to police accused of wrongdoing, a district justice released Rosfeld instead of holding him in pre-trial detention, an action that magistrate admitted was a first for any murder suspect he’d handled in 39 years.

Further, the Pittsburgh judge now handling matters involving Rosfeld is a lifelong friend of Rosfeld’s attorney and is a jurist investigated for his use of the N-word…multiple allegations other judges dismissed.

“We want [that judge] off this case,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook’s drive for justice in incidents like the Rose shooting is itself unusual.

Holbrook knows injustices from color-coded inequities embedded in the justice system through personal experience: he was a ‘juvenile lifer’ in Pennsylvania – the state once stained with the largest population of prisoners sentenced to life terms as teens.

Earlier this year Holbrook, who developed into a noted human rights activist and insightful essay writer while incarcerated, gained release after 27 years in prison on that life sentence for his presence at a fatal crime committed on his 16th Birthday.


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