The family of Walter Wallace Jr. and their lawyer gathered outside City Hall on Friday to make their first public statement since the city released body camera footage from the police officers who shot and killed Wallace last week.
Absent was Wallace’s mother, who attorney Shaka Johnson said hasn’t been able to get out of bed after witnessing her son’s death. In her place stood Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, a Black man killed by police in New York City six years ago.
“They both had their sons treated like animals by the people who are supposed to protect and serve,” Johnson said. “She can speak in a way no one else in attendance today can.”
Joined by several community advocates, the Wallace family pleaded for the city to implement a better system to respond to mental health emergencies — one that is, ideally, altogether separate from the Philadelphia Police Department.
Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor at Mother Bethel AME Church, suggested there could be a separate number Philadelphians can call for mental health emergencies, and have 911 reserved for violent crimes.
In New York this June, Carr watched as lawmakers signed a bill named after her son, which made it a felony for an officer to use a chokehold unless they’re protecting their own life. After yet another police killing of a Black man, this one in Philadelphia, she said wants to see more legislative change.
Especially when it comes to people with mental illnesses.
“We have to stop the police from being the first responders,” Carr said. “They shoot first and ask questions later.”
On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced the department would dedicate more resources to behavioral health. She promised to add a mental health specialist to the police radio/dispatch team, and increase crisis intervention training for all officers.
By early 2021, Outlaw said, the PPD would have in place co-response teams that include mental health professionals to be deployed in the field.
Through attorney Johnson, Wallace’s family said last week they were not asking for the two officers who killed their loved one to be charged.
That’s not necessarily because they think the officers haven’t committed a crime, Johnson clarified Friday. It’s just that they believe getting emotionally invested in criminal proceedings could do more harm for them than good. So they’re leaving prosecution up to District Attorney Larry Krasner.
“You have a better chance of hitting the lottery twice than a white police officer getting convicted of killing a Black man,” Johnson said. “It’s not just about charging folks. This is about systemic change and shifting policy.”
What does the Wallace family want? Tasers for all officers, and for training to be required.
Johnson referred to a 2015 Department of Justice review of Philadelphia police policies, which found that Taser training isn’t required at the police academy — therefore many officers don’t complete it, and are never provided a Taser.
“We’re not asking for something out of thin air,” Johnson said. “We’re just asking you to comply with something the DOJ already said you ought to do.”
The Philadelphia Police Department last week moved to seek funding for more of the electronic stun guns.
The family also announced a change to Wallace’s planned funeral. The service will still be held Saturday, with the viewing at 9 a.m. and the ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. — but it’ll be hosted at the National Temple Baptist Church at 1628 Master Street in North Philadelphia, rather than in West Philly.
Get daily updates from WHYY News!