Photo: Romir “Rome” Talley and his mother Latasha
By Darius Firoozi
On Sunday morning, Romir “Rome” Talley, a 24-year-old father of two, was shot by police in the city of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh.
The details of Talley’s death are still unclear as police have kept many details of the shooting under wraps. Wilkinsburg Police Department (WPD) has yet to allow the family to see the body and refused to share any additional information with them. The name of the officer who shot and killed Talley has not been released yet. He was shot five times.
Talley’s mother Latasha, along with her attorney Todd J. Hollis, are demanding transparency in what happened and justice for her son. “He was painted to be an aggressive and violent young black man, but he was a beautiful, bright young man that the system failed,” said Hollis on behalf of Latasha this past Tuesday.
At the time of Talley’s killing he was still mourning the death of his one-year-old daughter, evidenced by an emotional post on social media just an hour before he was shot by police. “It was rough going for him,” said his grandfather Raymond Talley, “He was going through that now over the holidays.”
Talley’s father Vincent Napper was also killed by the police over a decade ago in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, making it even more devastating for his family. The intergenerational legacy of police violence is representative of the oppression that working-class Black residents in Pittsburgh’s metropolitan area have experienced for decades at the hands of police.
Revolutionary organization Serve the People – Pittsburgh established a fundraiser in conjunction with the family to cover funeral and burial expenses, as well as support for the five-year-old child left orphaned by WPD. In addition to asking for donations for the family, the organization is also demanding WPD release the name of the officer who killed Romir and their immediate firing.
The city of Wilkinsburg has taken a default stance in support of the police killing, with WPD claiming that Talley had shot at police first before attempting to flee. Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett was quick to point out the “increase in violence, specifically homicides over these past two years,” as a justification for the shooting. In an attempt to rehabilitate WPD’s image and encourage local residents to collaborate with police, she went on to say, “In the Department’s consistency to be proactive, public safety forums were reinstated last year, [it has] been more vigilant working with residents to increase safety, and explore more options on how to address this epidemic.”
As much as the Mayor and others pretend to be concerned about public safety for all, the division of society into classes makes it so that the city and its police force serve ruling class interests at the expense of the working class and the poor. This has certainly been the case for Wilkinsburg, a small borough which has experienced years of economic depression and disinvestment.
On top of the business-as-usual terrorizing of this community, the police are also a key weapon for the enforcement of new plans to gentrify Wlikinsburg, helping to force the existing residents out to make way for new, wealthier residents.
This gentrification only sharpens the existing problems, causing more harassment and violence as police presence increases to protect new developments and enforce the displacement of working-class Black residents. In an interview with local bourgeois media, President of Wilkinsburg Borough Council Pamela Macklin lamented the fact that the shooting took place in the business district, citing “so many positive things occurring in Wilkinsburg now,” in a clear reference to the effort to gentrify the borough.
Macklin’s role as borough council president puts her in the same camp as Mayor Garrett, both of them serving ruling class interests. Her statement, which places the the prospects of gentrification in her community above the well-being of her residents, shows that the oppressive conditions which led to Talley’s death are not simply the result of city centers subjugating their suburbs, but of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie dominating and exploiting the masses.
Talley’s killing is only one example of what is to come for Wilkinsburg, and residents must unite and mobilize against police violence and gentrification in order to fight for their livelihoods and their community.