Philadelphia Police Kill Man in Need of Medical Assistance

Say His Name: Walter Wallace

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Walter Wallace was killed by Philadelphia police on Oct. 26, leading to major unrest in the city. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

On Oct. 26, Walter Wallace Jr.’s family called emergency services for an ambulance. however police officers showed up instead, and fatally shot the 27-year-old father of nine. While many beg the question why police were dispatched for a medical emergency in the first place, Wallace’s family and friends, activists and protestors alike, are deeply mourning the loss of the young father, but also demanding justice for his life and reform as to who will handle mental health crises.

“Officers who are properly trained should notice certain things when they arrive at a scene,” said Wallace family lawyer Shaka Johnson on Oct. 27, according to the {Philadelphia Inquirer}. “Especially when his wife tells you, ‘Stand down officers, he’s manic bipolar.’”

But officers did not stand down, and instead fired their weapons at him multiple times.

“They shot that man to kill him. Fourteen times,” said Mikal Woods to {The Washington Post}.

In the past month, police had been dispatched to Wallace’s family home several times and had responded to disturbances there twice on Monday alone. Police said the situation escalated when they told Wallace to put down a knife. According to their reports, advanced at them, before they shot their weapons.

Notwithstanding the fact that police were not the ones called to the scene for assistance, now activists are demanding answers as to why the officers discharged their guns as opposed to other forms of de-escalation.

“These officers had not been deployed tasers, as is with many officers in the department,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. “It’s common for officers to respond to domestic disturbance, or any type of call, with a gun because it’s one of the tools that we carry on our toolbelt,” she added.

Johnson said the Philadelphia police officers were poorly prepared for their jobs.

“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,” Johnson said.

According to The Washington Post database on fatal on-duty police shootings, more than one in four people killed by police have mental illnesses. Since 2015, at least 19 people have been killed by Philadelphia police; 16 were Black and at least three of them were experiencing mental health crises, USA Today reported.

“Water Wallace’s situation is a lot of Black Philadelphians’ story.  The mental health crisis due to the immense effects of poverty is overwhelming.  You stir that with COVID-19 and the loss of many services due to closures and restriction and you get this- a city boiling over in rage- and the police have no clue how to deal with these communities,” said said Tierra Rich, who lives, mentors, creates programming and serves communities in Philadelphia, particularly focusing on issues surrounding public health.  

“We are already at 400 murders this year. What more do we need to happen in order to get the resources we ask for,” Rich asked passionately.

Justice for the father of nine is a top priority as “Black Lives Matter” protests are erupting around the nation, since the videotaped death of George Floyd on Memorial Day of 2020. Since Wallace’s death on Monday, demonstrators have taken to the streets of Philadelphia.  According to {The Washington Post}, the protests from Monday night into Tuesday morning left shops damaged and 30 police injured, with one hospitalized for a broken leg after being hit by a truck.  

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) deployed the National Guard in order to assist police in curbing the unrest in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city.

“I feel tensions are high here.  A lot of people have been without work and basic resources before all of this started.  We already went through the first riots and now we have a city enraged right before the election, due to brutal police violence,” Rich told the AFRO.

Even Wallace’s young children are aware of the unrest between police and Black Americans, as well as the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We used to always hang out, and we used to always go places and we used to always play around, and he used to always teach me how to be a man.  And White, racist cops got my own dad,” Zamir Wallace, one of the 27-year-old’s young sons said. “And Black lives still matter.”

“I hope some equitable change comes from this soon. I hope the people in the poorest parts of the cities are able to see benefits from all of this.  But at this moment, everyone seems pretty discouraged and heartbroken,” Rich told the AFRO.