Friends, family, and politicians gathered Saturday morning at National Temple Baptist Church in North Philadelphia for the funeral of Walter Wallace Jr., the Black man slain by two Philadelphia police officers in late October.
Wallace’s family said he was suffering a mental breakdown at the time two police officers encountered and eventually shot him in front of his mother outside his West Philadelphia home.
While speakers acknowledged Wallace’s mental health struggles, they described him as a father, husband and son who exuded warmth and charisma.
Family described Wallace as a prankster, an avid reader and a “bootleg handyman” who would try to fix things for friends in need.
“We never saw Walt as having a disability,” said a family friend who eulogized Wallace. “We saw the man who fought hard through it and did so with his best ability.”
Cynthia Jefferson, Wallace’s former teacher and an extended relative, said Wallace was much more than his mental health struggles.
“We all have disabilities,” she said. “We all have something wrong.”
The emotional climax of the service came when Wallace’s widow, Dominique, rose to speak but was quickly overcome by tears.
“They really took him from me!” she exclaimed, slamming her feet into the church floor before collapsing into a relative’s arms.
The pair wed on Oct. 2, 24 days before Wallace’s death.
Politicians and public officials also paid their respects, with several speaking during the service.
City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who represents the district where Wallace lived and died, told the grieving family that “it could not be clearer how badly Philadelphia failed your family.”
“Today, I want to apologize for the pain and suffering our city has brought upon you,” Gauthier said.
She and others also thanked Wallace’s family for their repeated calls for peace after Wallace’s death.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, fighting back tears, also thanked the family for making “such difficult decisions about the release” of body camera footage depicting Wallace’s death.
“Philadelphia owes you a lot,” Krasner said.
“Yes, they do,” a member of the audience shouted out, prompting a standing ovation.
Krasner’s office is investigating Wallace’s death. Wallace had a knife when police encountered him, although body camera footage showed it was not raised when the officers fired.
Family members have said they do not want the two officers who shot Wallace to be charged with murder.
They have, however, demanded that Philadelphia equip officers with Tasers, offer better training on how to handle people in mental health crisis, and better coordinate with mental health agencies when responding to incidents.
“I vow not to let Walter’s death be in vain,” said Gauthier.
Wallace’s immediate family spoke little at the ceremony, but his father, Walter Wallace Sr., rose briefly to thank everyone who had reached out to his family over the last two weeks.
“Angels came upon us to give his strength,” said Wallace Sr. “We appreciate the outpouring and everything everybody did. People we don’t even know.”
Wallace’s brother, John, spoke about his infectious “energy.”
“He knew how to love,” said John Wallace. “He knew the definition of love. He was an honest man.”
Before the service, a long line of mourners cycled through the church to view Wallace’s body.
They included family friends like Ronald Wilson, who grew up with Wallace’s father in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia.
“I’ve known him ever since he was a baby,” Wilson said of Walter Wallace Jr. “It’s rough. You just … one day at a time.”
Others in the line didn’t know Wallace. But they felt they had to somehow acknowledge his death.
Among them was Ericka Ward, who belongs to the church where the service was held.
Ward said she lost her own son to gun violence in Baltimore in 2005.
“They not alone,” Ward said of Wallace’s family. “This has to stop.”