A graphic video shows the Philadelphia police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man who was shot and killed as his mother watched.
You can watch the video below, but be aware that it’s disturbing and shows the moment of the shooting. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wallace was “armed with a knife.” The newspaper named Wallace after learning his name from family members; police have not officially released it. According to the newspaper, he “appeared further than arm’s length away” when the officer fired. You can read more about Wallace Jr. here. His father told an Inquirer reporter that Wallace Jr. struggled with mental health issues.
Scanner traffic said an officer was down as riots escalated in the city, possibly struck with an SUV. His or her condition was not yet known.
Police have provided a few details on the shooting, saying that Wallace was armed.
“Responding officers witnessed a male on the block. Immediately they noticed he had a knife in his possession and he was brandishing it, and waiving it erratically,” said Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp to CBS Philadelphia.
The video shows two police officers with guns drawn in a residential neighborhood when Wallace walks in their direction from between parked cars, and they shoot him. A woman identified by the Inquirer as Wallace’s mother was at the scene and grows emotional as other people gathered around the body.
“You had to give him that many f*cking shots,” a man says in the video. “They just killed him.”
Here’s what you need to know:
A Police Spokesman Says Wallace Advanced Toward Officers But Protests & Riots Ignited
According to the Inquirer, a riot erupted in the wake of the shooting death that included bricks being tossed at and injuring officers, looted stores, and a police squad ignited on fire.
The police spokesman told the Inquirer that Wallace “advanced towards the policemen after they ordered him to drop the knife.” It was unclear how many times he was shot. Witnesses and family members told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the officers fired at least a dozen times; the newspaper said 13 evidence markers were observed at the scene.
District Attorney Larry Krasner on Monday issued the following statement, pledging to conduct a fair investigation:
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office takes its obligation to try to be fair and to seek evenhanded justice seriously. The DAO Special Investigations Unit responded to today’s fatal shooting of a civilian by police shortly after it occurred, and has been on scene with other DAO personnel since that time investigating, as we do jointly with the PPD Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Unit, in shootings and fatalities by other means involving police. We 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.
University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Public Safety wrote in statements on its website, describing the movements of protesters: “Update 9:56pm: All clear in the west side of the patrol zone. Police and security officers will continue to patrol the area. Update: Last seen heading westbound on Walnut Street at 44th Street. Update: Last seen heading westbound on Walnut Street at 41st Street. Update: Last seen heading westbound on Walnut Street towards 40th Street. Update: Last seen heading southbound on 39th at Walnut Street. Civil unrest in the area of 4000 block of Sansom Street. There are approximately 50 protestors last seen heading eastbound on Chestnut from 39th Street. Police responding, use caution, avoid area.”
When a person with a knife is close enough to pose a threat to officers is almost certainly going to be a point of contention in the case. Is there a law enforcement 21-foot rule that holds that “an attacker with a knife could cover 21 feet in about 1.5 seconds”?
“The question as to whether or not the 21 Foot Rule is an applicable defense in an officer-involved shooting actually depends upon the facts and evidence of every unique and rapidly evolving deadly force encounter,” Law Enforcer.com explained of the complexity of that rule. “In some circumstances, shooting at similar distances with far more experienced, competent and better equipped officers, within an environment with physical obstructions such as a police vehicle, might be inappropriate. Whereas, with inexperienced officers, wearing a difficult holster system and no obstructions within distances greater than 21 feet might be justified.”
A Council Member Condemned the Shooting
“This is a downright tragedy. Walter Wallace Jr., a resident of my district, was shot to death by police while his mother stood steps away. I extend my deepest condolences to her, and to all of this young man’s family and friends. Our whole community is mourning his loss tonight,” Councilmember Jamie Gauthier wrote in a statement posted to her Twitter page.
“I am calling on the Philadelphia Police Department to immediately release the body camera footage of the officers involved in this incident. The public deserves a full, unvarnished accounting of what took place today.”
We must acknowledge that things did not need to play out this way. Resorting to the use of a service weapon should be the absolute last resort for any officer. Had these officers employed de-escalation techniques and non-lethal weapons rather than making the split-second decision to fire their guns, this young man might still have his life tonight. Had these officers valued the life of this Black man – had they treated him as a person experiencing mental health issues, instead of of a criminal – we might be spared out collective outrage at yet another injustice at the hands of police. In this moments of reckoning and pain for West Philly, we need accountability, we need justice, and we need it now.
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