“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” Walter Wallace Sr. asked. “He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?”
PHILADELPHIA — Hundreds of protesters filled the streets of West Philadelphia Monday night, just hours after Philadelphia Police shot and killed a young Black man in the middle of the street.
Police said the man, who they later identified as 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr., was holding a knife and “advanced on them” immediately before they shot him.
One officer took Wallace to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Walter Wallace Sr. later told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the younger Wallace had struggled with mental health issues and was on medication.
“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” the elder Wallace asked.
“He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?”
The shooting followed a summer in which Philadelphians held multiple daily protests against police brutality throughout the month of June, and city officials promised to make significant changes to the way the police department operates and the ways police officers respond to confrontations with civilians.
The shooting, which happened at about 4 p.m., interrupted a hearing the city’s Special Committee on Criminal Justice Reform was holding about police oversight in the city. City officials want to overhaul and expand the authority of the city’s Police Advisory Commission, which is supposed to be a civilian watchdog for the department but has never had enough power, budget, or access to police records to enact any reforms. The overhaul and expansion of the commission is a question on Philadelphia ballots in the general election.
The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church, broke the news to the committee, according to WHYY.
“It’s moments like this that remind us the importance of the work of police oversight,” Tyler said, before announcing he was heading to the scene. “I‘m just at a loss right now.”
What a Bystander’s Video Shows
Video recorded by a bystander shows two police officers standing in the middle of the street, pointing their guns at Wallace as he walks away from them and around a car. A woman is close behind Wallace, but he does not turn to face her or point anything at her. In the video, police order Wallace to put a knife down.
When Wallace comes around the car and walks toward police, they back away and yell at him to put a knife down. It is hard to tell from the video if Wallace is holding a knife, but witnesses told local media that he was.
The video swings to the ground for about 4 seconds, and the sound of gunshots can be heard. It’s hard to tell from the video how many shots the police fired, as they were in rapid succession. When the camera swings back up, the video shows Wallace’s body falling to the ground in roughly the same spot he was standing several seconds earlier.
The video then shows the woman who had been following Wallace running up to him screaming, and then screaming at the police officers. One of the officers then grabs her and the two officers attempt to subdue her as bystanders approach Wallace’s body.
The video then shows other officers running toward the scene.
Walter Wallace Sr. later told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the woman was the younger Wallace’s mother, and she was attempting to defuse the situation.
Neighbors told the Inquirer that they had yelled at police to put their guns away, but the officers did not listen.
“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,’” witness Maurice Holloway told the Inquirer.
Witnesses estimated the police fired a dozen shots, and police later placed 13 markers at the scene to indicate where bullets landed.
Police said the two officers, who were not publicly identified, were taken off street duty pending an investigation.
Some people spoke with city Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who arrived at the scene a short time after the shooting occurred. She acknowledged that the video raised many questions, and promised to conduct an investigation.
“I heard and felt the anger of the community,” Outlaw said in a statement.
The protesters who gathered in West Philadelphia Monday night shouted at police officers. Some cried. Some chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “Say his name: Walter Wallace.”
Some protesters set police cars and dumpsters on fire. Others set off fireworks.Outlaw added that the video “raises many questions” and that “those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation.”
More than a dozen officers responded to the protesters with violence, forming a line as they ran down 52nd Street, many with a baton in hand, chasing protesters away. The crowd largely dispersed then.
Shooting is Another Example of the Need for Change
Arnett Woodall, a community organizer who lives a few blocks away, went to the scene shortly after the incident. He told the Inquirer that he took note of the number of evidence markers on the street and thought it was “a textbook example of excessive force.”
He, too, questioned why the officers shot Walter Wallace Jr.
“Why not a warning shot?” Woodall asked. “Why not a Taser? Why not a shot in the leg?”
Woodall told the Inquirer that the incident shows why police need to implement stronger community policing protocols and the city needs to invest in town watch programs.
“The city of Philadelphia can do better,” he said.
City council members and city residents have been saying the same thing for months.
The West Philadelphia neighborhood where protests broke out Monday night was one of the centers of protests in Philadelphia after the police killing of George Floyd. Philadelphia was one of many cities and towns across the country to hold protests after Floyd’s death, but one of only a few to hold daily protests from the last weekend of May into July.
Philadelphia has a long history of police racism and brutality that includes a police commissioner who advocated for “breaking” the heads of Black people, the bombing of a predominantly Black neighborhood in West Philadelphia, numerous shootings of Black residents after which officers were not charged or acquitted, and the revelation of thousands of racist social media posts by Philadelphia police officers.
During protests in June, police officers responded to the civil unrest with rubber bullets and tear gas on residential streets in West Philadelphia.
Police also used tear gas on protesters who gathered on I-676 in Center City on June 1.
RELATED: Police Accused of 125 Human Rights Violations During Black Lives Matter Protests, New Report Says
In the same week police used tear gas on people protesting police brutality, they allowed a group of white men with baseball bats to roam the Fishtown neighborhood after the city’s curfew.
City officials argued that the use of tear gas was acceptable until The New York Times reported on the incident on I-676. City officials then admitted the use of tear gas on I-676 was wrong, and prohibited officers from using it. City Council members are attempting to reinforce that order by passing legislation to permanently prohibit the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and other “less lethal munitions” in response to protests.
More than 140 residents and protesters have since sued the city over the police use of tear gas on protesters.
The mayor also has signed a law prohibiting police from using chokeholds or other restraints that can cause asphyxiation, and another law that would require public input during police contract negotiations. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 is fighting the second law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.