As soon as Walter Wallace Jr. collapsed on the ground, his mother rushed to his side.
In his final moments, the 27-year-old Black man was standing on a porch in West Philadelphia at around 4 p.m. Monday, a knife in his hand. Two police officers, responding to a report of a man with a knife in the neighborhood, officers approached Wallace and his mother with their guns drawn. One video of the incident shows Wallace’s mother attempting to get between him and officers, but Wallace brushes past her, walking toward the backpedaling officers, still holding his knife.
Within seconds, the officers fire nearly a dozen shots at Wallace, who was standing nearly 10 feet away from officers at the time he was shot. As he crumpled to the ground, another bystander video shows his mother and neighbors rushing into the street, their anguish on full display.
“Bro, they just killed him in front of me,” one man can be heard saying in a video. “Y’all ain’t have to give him that many shots.”
That rage coursed through Philadelphia Monday night and into Tuesday morning, as protesters clashed with Philadelphia police, demanding to know why police hadn’t done more to deescalate the situation—why Wallace, whose family says he had mental health issues, wound up dead during a mental health crisis.
“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” Walter Wallace Sr. asked the Philadelphia Inquirer. He noted that his son was on medication. “His mother was trying to defuse the situation.”
Maurice Holloway, who witnessed the shooting, said multiple people in the neighborhood attempted to diffuse the confrontation.
“I’m yelling [to officers] ‘Put down the gun, put down the gun,’ and everyone is saying, ‘Don’t shoot him, he’s gonna put it down, we know him,’” Holloway told the Inquirer.
“He turns and then you hear the shots,” Holloway said. “They were too far from him; it was so many shots.”
By 9:30 p.m., protesters had taken to the streets of West Philadelphia, a historically Black neighborhood, marching as a line of vehicles honked behind them, reports the New York Times. Violence broke out hours later, with videos shared on Twitter showing police in riot gear hitting protesters with batons as they confronted a group of demonstrators in a residential area.
Taryn Naundorff, a protester who recorded video of the confrontation, told the Times the police “started forcefully pushing back the crowd and beating anyone who wouldn’t back up.”
At least one police car and a dumpster were set on fire throughout the night. The Inquirer, citing Philadelphia police, reports that one officer was hit by a truck. Another 29 suffered minor injuries from being hit by various projectiles, including bricks near the 18th District Police Station. As the Washington Post reports, multiple businesses were also looted.
According to WPVI, more than two dozen people who were out during the protests had been arrested as of early Tuesday morning.
Wallace’s shooting will be a profound test for a city that recently hired its first Black female police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, and has had a progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner, since 2017. After a widely criticized incident earlier this year during which Philadelphia police trapped anti-police brutality protesters on a highway corridor and gassed them, the Philadelphia Police Department issued a temporary ban on using tear gas on demonstrators. As the Post notes, although the city council has debated permanently banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets during protests, it’s still unclear whether police adhered to that ban during last night’s protests.
Last night, city officials came forward acknowledging residents’ pain but asked for patience as they investigate Wallace’s shooting.
Outlaw was on the streets talking to angry residents and demonstrators shortly after the shooting.
“I recognize that the video of the incident raises many questions,” Outlaw said in a statement.
“Residents have my assurance that those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation,” she continued. “While at the scene this evening, I heard and felt the anger of the community. Everyone involved will forever be impacted.”
“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,” Krasner said in a statement. “In the hours and days following this shooting, we ask Philadelphians to come together to uphold people’s freedom to express themselves peacefully and to reject violence of any kind.”
“My prayers are with the family and friends of Walter Wallace,” Mayor Jim Kenney said on Monday. “I have watched the video of this tragic incident and it presents difficult questions that must be answered.”
Activists and supporters have rallied around Wallace’s family and those protesting. Philadelphia Bail Fund has been raising money to bail out demonstrators during the Wallace protests, and a GoFundMe for Wallace’s family has been set up.
Wallace’s shooting occurred in an area with a deep and traumatic history of police violence. As one Twitter user noted, Wallace was shot just several blocks away from the site of the 1985 MOVE bombing, during which police killed 11 people, including five children. As WPVI TV reported, two city blocks were razed and 61 homes destroyed in the bombing. The city of Philadelphia did not apologize to residents for the bombing until this year.