Walter Wallace Jr., an aspiring rapper, was named as the 27-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by two Philadelphia police officers on October 26, sparking scenes of unrest throughout the city.
The shooting death was captured on video, and police say Wallace was armed with a knife and advanced toward the officers. You can see him move toward the uniformed officers in the video. It’s not yet clear exactly how far away he was from the officers when they opened fire.
You can watch the video below, but be aware that it’s disturbing and shows the moment of the shooting. 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. According to Fox News, he rapped about shooting police officers.
Outrage was swift. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said in a statement: “I am heartsick, weary, and enraged. Again and again, for far too many, being Black in America has deadly consequences. The video of Walter Wallace, Jr. being shot and killed by Philadelphia police, followed by the guttural screams of his mother running to his fallen body, is too much to bear.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Wallace Jr. Was a Twin, Father & Son Whose Dad Says Had Mental Health Issues
Wallace “was a twin, father, and son, was shot 10 times by police,” his father said, according to Inquirer reporter Ellie Rushing.
Rushing quoted Walter Wallace Sr. as saying, “Why didn’t they use a taser? His mother was trying to diffuse the situation.”
He told Rushing that his son was on medication for mental health issues.
“He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?” he said to Rushing.
Walter Wallace Jr. should still he alive today because he was having a mental health crisis when Philadelphia police officers shot him to death, Wallace’s family and family lawyer said on the day after the shooting.
“His wife told them he was manic and bipolar – when the officers were standing at the foot of these steps,” said Shaka Johnson, the family’s lawyer, according to ABC 6.
Wallace’s uncle, Rodney Everett, told the television station, “What it’s telling people is, don’t call the cops. If you want your child to live, don’t even call the cops.”
“Mental health is real,” Sam White, Wallace’s cousin, told NBC10. “Depression is real. That’s something that we have to look at as a society. How we engage and we interact when those happen. How the police respond when you deal with a crisis situation.”
“From my understanding someone reported him as having health issues but they were advised, once they got on the scene, they were advised, that he has mental health issues,” his cousin Anthony Fitzhugh said to the television station.
2. Wallace Was Armed With a Knife but ‘Appeared Further Than an Arm’s Length Away’ From the Officer
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. CBS Philadelphia reported that the video shows he was “raising his arm as he approaches police.”
Police offered some details at the scene.
“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 Sergeant Eric Gripp to CBS Philadelphia.
“I don’t know what his demeanor was. I do know something had to be going on that wasn’t normal,” witness Maurice Holoway said to CBS Philadelphia. He said that he and others begged Wallace to drop the knife.
How close a man with a knife can get to police before posing a threat is likely to be a point of controversy. Is there really a law enforcement 21-foot rule holding 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 Officer 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.”
3. The Video Captures the Emotions That Erupted at the Scene as Officers Shot Wallace With His Mother Watching; He Had a Serious Criminal History
The graphic citizen cellphone 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 down. His mother is present and grows emotional as other people gather around the body.
“You had to give him that many f******* shots,” a man says in the video. “They just killed him.”
The police spokesman told the Inquirer that Wallace “advanced towards the policemen after they ordered him to drop the knife.”
Wallace had a criminal history. According to ABC 6, he “was currently awaiting trial for allegedly threatening to shoot a woman and her house up.”
The station added, “In 2017, he pled guilty to robbery, assault, and possessing an instrument of crime after kicking down the door of another woman and putting a gun to her head.” Four years before that he pleaded guilty to “assault and resisting arrest after punching a police officer in the face.”
Police said they had been called many times to the Wallace home before for serious reports including twice that day before the call that led to the shooting.
You can read his full criminal historyhere from Pennsylvania courts.
4. Protests & Riots Ignited as Stores Were Looted & an Officer Was Struck by a Truck
Scanner traffic said an officer was down as riots escalated in the city on the evening of October 26, possibly struck with an SUV. His or her condition was not yet known.
According to the Inquirer, a riot erupted in the wake of the shooting death that included bricks being tossed at and injuring officers, stores looted and a squad car torched.
District Attorney Larry Krasner on Monday issued the following statement:
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 of 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.”
5. A Council Member Condemned the Shooting, Calling for the Release of Bodycam Video
Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer who often represents families in police shooting cases, wrote on Twitter, “Philadelphia cops fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr. today, firing 10+ times at him while he stood at least 10ft away. He allegedly had a knife but cops made NO attempts at de-escalating the situation in this video. They went straight to killing Wallace in front of his loved ones!”
“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.