The death of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old man fatally shot by police Monday afternoon in West Philadelphia, has sparked outrage and turmoil across the city.
Wallace’s killing followed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the scenes Monday night and early Tuesday morning echoed the protest and unrest their deaths provoked during the summer in Philadelphia.
Two officers fired about 14 shots at Wallace, a Black man who was wielding a knife, shortly before 4 p.m. on the 6100 block of Locust Street after someone called police to report a person with a weapon screaming.
In a video that quickly attracted attention Monday night, officers are seen backing into the street, ordering Wallace to drop the knife. He comes out from behind a parked car and walks toward police before several shots are heard.
The cellphone footage shows Wallace collapsing on the street, and a woman, reportedly his mother, rushes to his side.
Authorities said the incident is being investigated by the police department’s office-involved shooting unit, but they did not release many details, citing the ongoing inquiry. The District Attorney’s Office is also looking into the incident.
Both officers who fired at Wallace were wearing body cameras, and some, including councilmembers Jamie Gauthier and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, have called on officials to immediately make the video public.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw did not commit to releasing the footage, and she said her department was conducting a threat assessment to determine if it is safe to release the names of the officers involved.
PPD’s investigation will examine what led up to the shooting, and whether the officers used appropriate force to subdue Wallace, she said.
Outlaw noted that not all officers are equipped with tasers, and those who responded to the call on Locust Street did not have them.
“The law does not allow us to utilize hindsight, but it really is about what the involved officer perceived, experienced, what they were thinking at the time they made the decision to use force,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who said he spoke to Wallace’s wife and parents Monday evening, said the video recorded by a witness raises “many difficult questions” about what happened.
“We need a speedy and transparent resolution for the sake of Mr. Wallace, his family, the officers and for all of Philadelphia,” he said.
Wallace was a father, and, earlier this month, he married his wife, who is pregnant, according to a GoFundMe page set up in his honor. His father, William Wallace Sr., told the Inquirer that his son has struggled with mental health issues.
The fundraiser, through Tuesday afternoon, had raised about $80,000 to support Wallace’s family.
Following his death, many took to social media and the streets to express anguish and demand police reform.
“Had these officers valued the life of this Black man — had they treated him as a person experiencing mental health issues, instead of a criminal — we might be spared our collective outrage at yet another injustice at the hands of police,” Gauthier, whose district includes West Philadelphia, said in a statement.
Progressive state Rep. Brian Sims tweeted that Wallace “wasn’t killed by cops, he was murdered by them,” and state Rep. Joanna McClinton, who lives near the site of the shooting, said he was “brutally murdered in front of his mother.”
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the video “suggests that no one was in immediate danger when officers killed him.”
“This city is overdue for a reckoning with the brazenly violent and abusive behavior in its police department,” Shuford said in a statement.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby asked the public to be patient and await the results of the investigation.
“Our police officers are being vilified this evening for doing their job and keeping the community safe, after being confronted by a man with a knife,” he said in a statement Monday. “We support and defend these officers, as they too are traumatized by being involved in a fatal shooting.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his VP pick, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, released a joint statement mourning Wallace while denouncing the violence and destruction of property that followed his death.
“We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death,” the candidates said. “Walter Wallace’s life, like too many others’, was a Black life that mattered — to his mother, to his family, to his community, to all of us.”
“Looting is not a protest, it is a crime,” they added. “It draws attention away from the real tragedy of a life cut short.”
Hours after Wallace’s death, protesters gathered at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, and people clashed with officers near a police station at 55th and Pine streets and along the 52nd Street corridor.
Eight police vehicles were damaged, Outlaw said, including a cruiser that was set on fire. Looting was reported in West Philadelphia and other areas of the city.
Thirty officers, most of whom were hit by projectiles, were injured, and all but one, a sergeant who was intentionally run over by a pickup truck, were treated and released. Outlaw said the sergeant remains hospitalized with a broken leg.
A total of 91 people were arrested Monday night into early Tuesday morning, including 11 who were charged with assaulting officers. Outlaw said 76 people had been brought in for commercial burglary.
Some businesses closed or boarded up Tuesday in anticipation of possible rioting overnight.