Disbelief and unanswered questions after fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace

Philadelphians are looking for answers on why police officers were not able to de-escalate the situation when called to the scene of a man wielding a knife.

Walter Wallace Jr.

Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was fatally shot by Philadelphia police on Monday, Oct. 26. (NBC10)

Bruce Booker was at the shopping plaza on 57th and Vine by 7 a.m. Tuesday to drop off his wife who works at the Family Dollar there.

He and a dozen others were thinking of one thing: how police shot 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr. in Cobbs Creek and right in front of his mother?

“That man was 10 feet away from them and you’re going to gun him down in front of his mom?” asked Booker in disbelief.

There are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered, and video shows Wallace had a knife on him when two police officers shot him. Wallace, however, was accompanied by his mother and relatives told the Philadelphia Inquirer he was in distress when police arrived.

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According to police, officers responded to a call for “a person with a weapon.”

Online video taken by an onlooker shows two officers firing their guns multiple times. Police accounts say the officers struck Wallace in the shoulder and chest. One of the officers took Wallace to Presbyterian Medical Center where Wallace died from his injuries shortly after 4 p.m.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of West Philly around 7 p.m. Monday in response to the video and Wallace’s killing.

A shopping center at 57th and Vine streets was looted Monday night after Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia
A shopping center at 57th and Vine streets was looted Monday night after Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The night was tense as protesters marched through West Philadelphia. The police department reported at least 30 of its officers were hurt, including a 56-year-old sergeant who suffered a broken leg when she was struck by a pickup truck at 52nd and Walnut.

The Monday protests also led to looting early Tuesday morning, which has left residents like Booker torn.

“They gonna protest, protest downtown,” he said as a dozen volunteers helped sweep up glass and store merchandise strewn across the shopping center. “All you’re doing is tearing our stuff up. We can’t even shop today.”

Booker, who was born and raised in West Philadelphia, said the shooting and subsequent community response reminded him of the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

People who worked at different plaza shops said the police shooting of Wallace and the subsequent destruction was taking a toll on their mental health.

Ann, who didn’t want to give her last name, has lived in the neighborhood for six years. She came to the plaza early in the morning to help clean up and she said she was ready to leave the city for good. It’s bad enough she lost three children to gun violence here, she said, but the added fear about aggressive police makes it impossible to stay.

“I feel like the world is coming to an end,” she said. “This is starting to be the new norm. This is how it’s going to be until the cops learn to shoot people in the foot, or tase them, and stop just killing them as soon as they get scared.”

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Steven Hall works at Q&S beauty supply and argues with bystanders defending looting on 52nd Street
Steven Hall works at Q&S beauty supply and argues with bystanders defending looting on 52nd Street. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

At 52nd and Market streets more residents lamented Wallace’s killing. Several told WHYY reporters that they cried when they saw the video. And even as residents helped clean up some of the damage and business owners stood guard of their storefronts, they say not as much was broken as during unrest earlier this year.

The public demands for changes in policing this summer were so strong that Philadelphia’s police department made changes in its department to prevent future tragedies.

One of the changes included attaching a behavioral health clinician to the department’s 911 radio room. The program, still in its initial stages, rolled out at the end of September. It’s unclear if the clinician heard the initial call police responded to involving Wallace.

District Attorney Larry Krasner has asked anyone who witnessed the shooting to reach out to his office with details as the Special Investigations Unit looks into the case.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Jamie Gauthier has called on the police department to release body camera footage of the shooting.

“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,” she said in a statement. “Had these officers valued the life of this Black man — had they treated him as a person experiencing mental health issues, instead of a criminal — we might be spared our collective outrage at yet another injustice at the hands of police.”

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