Wallace’s death is the latest in a litany of complaints against Philadelphia police department, from racialized mistreatment using extremely violent tactics against protesters. The city erupts days before major elections.
Days of protests following the police shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr. leaves Philadelphia simmering in a city dealing with longstanding issues of police brutality against Black people. In the case of Wallace, questions on how police deal with wellness checks or mental health calls resurface again.
Wallace’s tragic demise started on Monday afternoon, October 26, with a call from family members concerning the 27-year-old, African American’s psychological well-being. Wallace, who had a documented, lengthy history of mental health issues, was on medication and had just been treated at an outpatient facility. With a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Wallace took lithium, a drug used as a mood stabilizer.
According to the Wallace family attorney, Shaka Johnson, the relative on the call requested an ambulance or some type of medical assistance. Rather than healthcare professionals, police showed up to a West Philadelphia residence in a Cobb Creek neighborhood. When Philadelphia PD arrived, family members, including Wallace’s parents, repeatedly told officers that Wallace was “mental.”
A musician, and the father of seven children, all of school age, Wallace had also just married earlier in October. His wife, Dominique, who was in the last term of her pregnancy, was scheduled to have her labor induced the same week. She was also present during the family’s pleas with officers to help Wallace, and not hurt him. Unfortunately, their requests ended with his death after being shot 14 times by two officers.
“From the first shot, it was almost instantaneous incapacitation . . . 13 additional shots were wholly unnecessary,” said Johnson at a press conference this week.
According to Johnson, officers’ body camera footage reveals that one cop instructed the other to “shoot him,” moments before discharging their firearm. On video footage streamed live by a nearby witness, Wallace appeared to be holding something in his hand. Footage also shows Wallace’s mother standing between her son and officers, pleading with them before they shot multiple rounds.
“The only remedy the police had in that moment was their service weapon,” said Johnson.
The community response was swift and immediate. Protests into the night began as the live footage video went viral. Demonstrators began to clash with police. Camera footage shows officers smashing the window of an SUV at a demonstration before pulling someone out of the car. On the other hand, a driver barrels through a line of officers.
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In the days following, multiple arrests of protesters occurred. Dozens of officers reported injuries. Included, several groups looted big box retailers such as Walmart, Rite Aid and Lord & Taylor. After two nights, the city issued a curfew.
By Thursday, the City Council passed a resolution protecting residents’ right to “protest or peaceful assembly.” In their release, they acknowledge that “Philadelphia’s history of using tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray against its own citizens also looms large.”
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Since May, the major metropolis has experienced record numbers of Black Lives Matter protests, and other demonstrations, such as those against ICE detainments. Leading up to the elections, protests intensify. With the killing of Wallace, rallies continue on, and are expected to increase in the next few days leading up to major elections.
“As we grapple with tragedy, uncertainty and the most important election of our lives, the City will continue to uphold the constitutional right of all people to make their voices heard in the streets,” said Councilmember Helen Gym.
While this is a step to respond to President Donald Trump and the Department of Justice sanctions of using military police to quell protesters, Philadelphia law enforcement and city officials have not fully atoned for its past attacks on the African American community in the city.
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Since the turn of the 20th Century, there has been a brutal relationship between law enforcement and the Black community. Although African Americans used Philadelphia as a refuge after emancipation, and even before it served as a critical site for freed Blacks and escaped slaves, the history of disenfranchisement, segregation and mistreatment through policing is well over 120 years old.
When Blacks began to migrate to Philadelphia after emancipation in 1865, and more so during the World Wars, there were noted clashes between recent European immigrants who settled in the city. The urban spaces where African Americans lived were criminalized. Though Black Philadelphia serves as an important historical and cultural center for African Americans with celebrated Black leaders and intelligentsia living there at one point in time, systemic inequalities underdeveloped Black communities.
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One of the more egregious confrontations between African Americans and the city via their law enforcement is the bombing of environment advocates, Black power group, MOVE in late 1970s and 80s. The clash turned into a standoff which resulted in the chief of police bombing the compound of MOVE.
Since there have been numerous reports of brutality, wrongful killings and profiling, leading up to Wallace’s recent fatality. While Johnson said the family will not pursue any criminal charges against officers, it is likely that they will file a wrongful death lawsuit against the police.
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