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Philadelphia police officers shot and killed West Philly resident Walter Wallace Jr. on Monday afternoon.
The interaction started with a 911 call, and ended with two officers fatally shooting 27-year-old Wallace, a Black man, multiple times in front of his mother and their neighbors.
The shooting, which was captured in a disturbing viral video, spurred outrage from the community, and hundreds of protesters marched in West Philadelphia Monday night. Gov Tom. Wolf’s office confirmed that the National Guard is mobilizing to head to Philly for the second time this year to assist local police, though Mayor Jim Kenney said the city considered calling on the Guard to assist with next week’s election prior to the shooting.
Local officials questioned why police had resorted to lethal force when they did. The two officers who shot Wallace have been taken off street duty, and the PPD has launched an investigation into their conduct. Philly police have now shot 10 people in nine separate incidents so far this year. Wallace’s death marked the second fatality.
What happened on the ground?
Philadelphia police officers responded to a call about a person with a weapon at 61st and Locust shortly before 4 p.m. on Monday.
It was broad daylight when officers encountered 27-year-old West Philly resident Walter Wallace Jr., who reportedly stood armed with a knife. In a graphic video of the incident circulating on social media, Wallace can be seen circling the block in an agitated state, appearing unresponsive as officers order him to “put the knife down.” A woman who identified herself as Wallace’s mother is seen following him, entreating him to answer her.
In the video on social media, Wallace appears several feet away from the two officers when they opened fire, each shooting seven times, acoording to PPD officials. There were 13 evidence markers on the ground, according to photos of the scene.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner have all said an investigation into the shooting is being opened. Other elected officials, including West Philly Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and Pa. Rep. Jordan Harris, have released statements expressing outrage.
We don’t yet know why this 911 call wasn’t handled with the new behavioral health response Philly police announced earlier this month, nor whether a behavioral health specialist was present in the dispatch room when the call came in. The Inquirer reports that officers were dispatched to Wallace’s address two separate times prior to their third visit that ended in a fatal shooting, though details of those earlier visits were not immediately clear.
Who saw the shooting?
There were a handful of witnesses on the block when Philadelphia police shot Wallace.
His mother was there, following Wallace frantically, and she shrieked after he fell to the ground. Wallace’s neighbor, Maurice Hollaway, saw the whole thing too — and described it in detail to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Commissioner Outlaw arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting. By that time, a larger crowd had gathered in the street.
Who were the officers that shot him?
We don’t know yet. At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Outlaw said she was still determining whether they’re going to release the officers’ names or other evidence in connection with the shooting. No information has been made available about their race, ethnicity or number of years on the force.
We do know that both officers were wearing body cameras, according to the police department. But no footage has been released yet. Both officers have been taken off street duty as the PPD launches an investigation.
How did local officials respond?
City Council happened to be holding a hearing on police oversight reform Monday afternoon when the news of the shooting broke, according to WHYY’s PlanPhilly. Activists on the call immediately condemned officers for not trying to de-escalate the scene before discharging their weapons.
“The irony is not lost on me that while this special committee on criminal justice reform is having this most important hearing to talk about the establishment of a Citizens Police Oversight Commission … a young man in Southwest Philadelphia was shot to death,” said Councilmember Curtis Jones.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, whose district covers West Philly, condemned officers for not deploying non-lethal de-escalation tactics. So did state Rep. Jordan Harris, who wrote on Facebook that “the time is now for commonsense police reforms that will prevent tragedies like what occurred in Cobbs Creek today.”
Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, also condemned the shooting, calling to “divest in police and invest in community programs, including the kind of mental health services that allow intervention that may have prevented Mr. Wallace’s killing.”
What happens next?
An internal investigation into the shooting is underway. This is routine in any case where an officer discharges their firearm. Mayor Kenney and other city officials will hold a briefing with updates sometime Tuesday.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said investigators with the prosecutor’s office went to the scene of the shooting, which is also standard practice. Krasner did not yet mention any criminal charges, but said his office would “intend to go where the facts and law lead us and to do so carefully, without rushing to judgment and without bias of any kind.”
Does this happen often?
Philadelphia police officers have so far shot 10 people in nine separate incidents this year, according to city data. Wallace’s death marked the second fatality, following a fatal shooting just a couple of weeks ago.
Over the past decade, police shootings in Philadelphia have been on a decline. In 2009, officers shot civilians 60 different times, according to department data. In 2018, the department only recorded 12 police shootings.
In September 2019, Darrin Lee survived after 24th District officers shot him in Kensington. He was also holding a knife and had a documented history of mental illness, according to his family. West Philly resident Kelab Belay, then 25 years old, also survived after officers found him with a knife and shot him in West Philadelphia in 2019.
What are people doing for Wallace’s family?
So far there are a few crowdfunding campaigns circulating that claim to be fundraising for Wallace’s family.
The most legit one appears to be this GoFundMe page, reportedly organized by a friend of Wallace’s newlywed wife. It brought in more than $20,000 in donations in just seven hours.
The Wallace has also hired attorneys, who spoke to reporters in from of the family home on Tuesday. The attorneys claim this was an unjustified shooting, and that Wallace’s wife had told officers her husband was manic.
Protests carried into the night
Almost immediately after the shooting, people started to gather in the streets to protest.
Roughly 300 people marched late into the night in West Philadelphia, decrying police violence against Black people and police brutality in general. As of Tuesday morning, 30 people had been detained and 30 officers had reportedly been injured. Most sustained minor injuries; one officer was reportedly hit by a pickup truck and broke her leg. Eight police vehicles sustained damaged, including one set on fire, Outlaw said.
A separate group that broke off after the larger marches dispersed is reported to have caused vandalism from University City deep into West Philly, at retail locations like Starbucks and Foot Locker. Some dumpsters and at least one police car were set on fire.
At the end of the night, Outlaw said police made 91 total arrests, including 11 for assaults on police and 76 for burglary. Three citations were issued for failure to disperse. The commissioner said looting response teams will be deployed to commercial districts, and she has requested reinforcements from surrounding counties to help with response in the coming days.
Cleanup efforts were already underway early on Tuesday morning.
How did the police union respond?
FOP Lodge 5 president John McNesby issued a statement defending the officers for “doing their job and keeping the community safe,” noting that “they too are traumatized by being involved in a fatal shooting.”
Some local lawmakers — including Councilmember Gauthier — decried the FOP’s statement as inhumane.