Philadelphia saw a second night of protests and looting yesterday following Monday's police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old aspiring rapper who was wielding a knife while experiencing what his family described as a "mental crisis." Wallace's relatives say police could have defused the situation without using lethal force.
Last night about 500 people staged a peaceful march in West Philadelphia to protest Wallace's death, while others of a more avaricious bent took advantage of the situation several miles away. "After looting Monday night into Tuesday morning in West Philadelphia, hundreds of people were back out ransacking businesses 24 hours later," WPVI, the local ABC station, reports. "Hundreds of people could be seen running in and out of businesses along Aramingo Avenue in the city's Port Richmond section, including a Foot Locker, Burlington, Target and Dollar General. Some could be seen with their hands full of merchandise, jumping in cars before police arrived."
A bystander's cellphone video of the shooting shows two officers repeatedly ordering Wallace to put down the knife as he approaches them and they back away. The Philadelphia Police Department says the officers each fired seven rounds, although it is not clear at this point how many struck Wallace.
Wallace's mother, Catherine Wallace, says police should have known her son was having a mental breakdown because they had been called to the family's house three times that day. Shaka Johnson, a lawyer representing Wallace's family, noted that the officers were not carrying tasers, which might have provided a less lethal way to subdue him. "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?" he asked.
Wallace was the father of nine children, and Johnson said his wife was about to give birth to a 10th. In 2013, WPVI reports, Wallace "pled guilty to assault and resisting arrest after punching a police officer in the face." Around the same time, "a judge ordered Wallace to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and treatment."
The officers were wearing body cameras, but the footage has not been released yet. The police department is investigating the shooting. "We're confident that investigators will conduct an exhaustive and transparent review of all the facts related to this tragic incident," said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby.
"The public deserves a transparent and honest accounting of what happened," City Council Member Jamie Gauthier writes in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed piece published today. "Officers need more intensive training on de-escalation techniques and use of nonlethal weapons….We must immediately ramp up investments in mental health supports for first responders and the communities they serve."
More on that from Sally Satel in Reason's October issue.