Philadelphia Demands Justice After Cops Kill Walter Wallace Jr.

Chelsey Sanchez
·5 min read
Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

On Monday, October 26, Philadelphia cops shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who had been experiencing a mental health crisis. Hundreds of people have since taken to marching and rioting in the streets of Philadelphia, demanding the identities of the officers involved.

Ahead, we explain the conflict.

What happened?

Police fatally shot Walter on Monday afternoon outside his home after responding to reports about a man with a weapon. Police said that he wielded a knife and ignored orders to drop it.

A video of the shooting, as recorded by a bystander, shows Walter in the street as two officers train their guns on him, with people yelling in the background. Later, Walter, who is still several feet away from the officers, walks toward them as the officers move away. Then, the camera is lowered as the sound of several gunshots ring out. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said on Twitter that Walter was shot more than 10 times by the police.

Walter's family and a witness contested claims that he posed a serious threat to officers on the scene. On Tuesday night, the family said that the cops knew their son was experiencing a mental health crisis because they had already visited the house three times on Monday. Walter's mother, Cathy Wallace, said that during one of the visits, "they stood there and laughed at us." The family additionally said that they called 911 requesting medical assistance and an ambulance, not police intervention.

"Why didn't they use a Taser?" his father, Walter Wallace Sr., said, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. “His mother was trying to defuse the situation. … He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?”

Maurice Holloway, a witness to the shooting, told the Inquirer that Walter was holding a knife and speaking with his aunt on the porch of his home when cops arrived. The police immediately drew their guns on him. The Inquirer reported …

Wallace’s mother chased after him as he walked down the steps of his porch, still holding the knife, according to Holloway. His mother tried to shield Wallace and tell police he was her son.

“I’m yelling, ‘Put down the gun, put down the gun,’ and everyone is saying, ‘Don’t shoot him, he’s gonna put it down, we know him,’” said Holloway, 35.

Wallace brushed off his mother and walked behind a car before emerging again, Holloway said.

“He turns and then you hear the shots,” Holloway said. “They were too far from him; it was so many shots.”

Shaka Johnson, the Wallace family's attorney, said at a press conference on Tuesday, per The Guardian, "When you come to a scene where somebody is in a mental crisis, and the only tool you have to deal with it is a gun … where are the proper tools for the job?"

Walter is survived by nine children and his wife, Dominique Wallace, who is also reportedly due to give birth this week.

Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images

How have the protests evolved?

Hours after the killing on Monday night, hundreds of people gathered in West Philadelphia in a protest that included an hours-long standoff with police in riot gear, according to the Inquirer. The volume of protesters also reportedly overwhelmed police forces, with some setting police cars on fires and others breaking into stores. A spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department said 30 officers were treated for injuries, mostly consisting of cuts and bruises from protesters throwing rocks and debris. One officer was also reportedly treated for a broken leg after being hit by a truck.

On Tuesday night, about 500 people demonstrated in the city demanding justice for Walter and for the immediate release of the identities of the officers involved. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf mobilized the National Guard, with "several hundred guardsmen" expected to arrive within the next few days, reported the Inquirer. Additional police officers were also deployed Tuesday night.

Philadelphia's police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, said 91 people were arrested during Monday night into Tuesday, according to The New York Times.

Protests also sparked in New York City on Tuesday night, many standing in solidarity with demonstrators in Philadelphia and connecting Walter's death with the broader Black Lives Matter movement that erupted across the nation earlier this summer, following the death of George Floyd.

Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mark Makela - Getty Images

How are representatives responding?

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney said in a press release on Monday that the video of Walter's killing "presents difficult questions that must be answered." He added, "The Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit of PPD will conduct a full investigation. I look forward to a speedy and transparent resolution for the sake of Mr. Wallace, his family, the officers, and for Philadelphia."

Commissioner Outlaw expressed similar sentiments, saying that an investigation is ongoing and that the video "raises many questions."

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris also released a joint statement on Walter's death. "We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death," the statement read. "It makes the shock and grief and violence of yesterday’s shooting that much more painful, especially for a community that has already endured so much trauma."

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump's White House said that they were "monitoring the situation closely. If necessary, we'll be standing by and prepared to deploy federal resources."

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