Protesters took to the streets of Philadelphia Monday night hours after a pair of white police officers shot and killed a Black man who had a knife but did not appear to be threatening the lives of the cops, according to a viral video of the shooting. Walter Wallace Jr., who was said to have suffered from mental illness, was killed on a West Philadelphia street as his mother begged police not to shoot him.
Video shows the 27-year-old Wallace walking — not running or charging or aggressively approaching — toward the officers, who could be seen scrambling while retreating and aiming their guns at him. Wallace continued to walking when the officers fired their weapons in front of multiple onlookers. Markers on the ground at the scene showed what appeared to be at least 12 shots fired during the encounter that took place around 4 p.m. When the shooting happened, Wallace did not appear to be close enough to the officers to pose a mortal threat to them.
Wallace’s father told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his son suffered from mental illness and wondered why they had to resort to using lethal force.
“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” Walter Wallace Sr. asked. “His mother was trying to defuse the situation.”
He added: “He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?”
The Philadelphia Police Department said it would review the shooting as well as the officers’ bodycam footage.
It was unclear how police were notified.
Video footage of the shooting follows below. It is explicit and graphic and should be viewed with discretion.
The Inquirer reported that protesters were responsible for “vandalism and looting” following the police violence. But the protests reportedly turned violent, as well.
“At least one police vehicle was set on fire Monday night and destroyed, and several police officers were injured by bricks or other objects hurled from the crowd,” the Inquirer reported. “One officer was hospitalized after getting run over by a speeding truck.”
The shooting drew attention to the difference in police responses to mentally ill people depending on the color of their skin.
Wallace’s death was at least the second high-profile police killing of a Black man suffering from mental illness in recent months. Police in Rochester, New York, in March killed Daniel Prude, who was nearly nude at the time. Still, police thought it would be prudent to — as the New York Times reported — “put a hood over his head and then pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes.”
Wallace’s police killing all but mirrored that of Saheed Vassell, the Black man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was shot by cops in 2018 in New York City. Vassell pointed what turned out to be a metal pipe at pedestrians during a walk in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Someone called the police to alert them about Vassell before four responding officers opened fire on the West Indian man within seconds of their arrival, a surveillance video revealed.
This is America.