Activists honor Walter Wallace Jr., nearly six months after Philly police fatally shot him

Protesters carry a banner in honor of Walter Wallace Jr.

Protesters carried a banner in honor of Walter Wallace Jr., who was shot and killed by police in West Philadelphia in October 2020, on 52nd Street, April 25, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated: 6:30 p.m.

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About 100 people have gathered at West Philadelphia’s Malcolm X Park to honor Walter Wallace Jr., the 27-year-old Black man who police fatally shot in October.

The event kicked off with a drum line and chants of “long live Walter Wallace.”

“Tomorrow is six months to the day that police murdered Walter Wallace,” said YahNé Ndgo, who helped organize Sunday’s event. “We want to make sure that people always remember what happened.”

Protesters chanting for Black liberation
Organizer Krystal Strong leads a protest march into Malcolm X Park on April 25, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Wallace loved life, said his wife, Dom Wallace, who wanted the event to reflect her husband’s life. Indeed, the atmosphere was celebratory and family-friendly, with groups offering free food, books, and clothing. There was even a bouncy house for children.

“My husband loved to party, so it’s a block party … liberation, justice, everything — for the people,” she said.

Wallace was in the middle of a mental health crisis when his family called police asking for help. When officers arrived at his Cobbs Creek home, Wallace was holding a knife and walking towards an officer while his mother tried to deescalate the situation.

Less than a minute from arriving on the scene, Officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz opened fire, killing Wallace. The shooting was caught on video by a bystander, as well as body-worn camera footage later released by police, and was followed by protests calling attention to police brutality.

Protesters chanting for Black liberation and to free Mumia march down 52nd Street in West Philadelphia
Protesters chanting for Black liberation and to free Mumia march down 52nd Street in West Philadelphia on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

To date, no criminal charges have been filed against Matarazzo and Munz. A joint investigation by the Philadelphia Police Department’s Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is still underway.

In the meantime, the PPD has removed Matarazzo and Munz from active duty.

Ndgo said people might know about the moments before Wallace’s death, but they should know who Wallace was as a person.

The demonstration at Malcolm X Park aimed to shed light on how Wallace aligned with Black Lives Matter and how the music he wrote reflected those beliefs. In between speakers, the crowd got to hear Wallace’s song “Black Hearted,” which called attention to police brutality.

Walter Wallace Sr. described his son as someone who had a deep love for his city, its people, and of course, its sports teams.

“The Eagles, Flyers, soccer, any Philadelphia team, he was there,” said Wallace’s father, who also said his son was a doting father.

“He loved his kids,” he said. “He took them to the parks, played games with them, showed them how to read and write. He did what any ordinary father did.”

For Dominique Wallace, his wife, the day also served as a way to give back to the community.

“Because the community gave to me in my time of sorrow and need,” she said. “My husband, he did this on a regular basis. Somebody called him in need, my husband was there.”

Walter Wallace Jr.’s siblings, Wynetta Wallace, his twin, (left) Lakitah Wallace, (center), and brother John Brant (right)
On April 25, 2021, Walter Wallace Jr.’s siblings, Wynetta Wallace, his twin, (left) Lakitah Wallace, (center), and brother John Brant (right), asked protesters at Malcolm X Park to keep fighting for justice for Walter Wallace Jr., who was killed by Philadelphia police in October of 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Joined by her two other siblings, Wallace’s older sister Lakitah Wallace told the crowd how the group was tight-knit and just how much her brother is missed.

“Black lives matter,” said Lakitah. “We can’t get his phone calls, we can’t get his texts, we can’t get a million rings at the door, we can’t pop up visits any time of the day. None of it.”

Sunday was the final installation of weekend rallies put together by supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Sunday’s speakers also called for the release of former Black Panther, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, who was one of six people convicted for the murder of Police Sgt. Frank Von Colln during an attack on a Cobbs Creek police station in 1970. Shoatz is serving life without parole.

Ndgo said there are many threads connecting Wallace’s death and Abu-Jamal’s incarceration.

“We consider that the state is at war with Black people,” said Ndgo, calling the over-policing of Black communities an “occupation.”

Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence and claimed prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. Supporters say Abu-Jamal was targeted because he spoke out against police brutality.

“They often sanction Black communities,” said Ndgo of police, “prevent us from having the resources that we need so that we can operate at our best, so the result is, as Malcolm X said, they maneuver the people in the Black community into criminal activity as a form of survival. Then they can imprison us and use our bodies for capital purposes.

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