West Philly rally resumes protest against police killing of Walter Wallace Jr.

The rally, organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Philly and other groups, demands that the officers who shot Wallace be held accountable.

Protesters march from the scene of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing to Malcolm X Park in Oct. 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Protesters march from the scene of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing to Malcolm X Park in Oct. 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 4:35 p.m.

A crowd estimated at upward of 1,000 turned out Saturday afternoon for a rally to protest the police killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia, with the demonstration originally due to gather at 61st and Locust streets, near the site of the 27-year-old’s death Monday night.

At noon, the scheduled start time for the march, a heavy police presence had restricted intersections as far as 10 blocks away from the protest location. About a dozen officers were stationed at 52nd and Market streets alone.

Around 12:15, 61st and Locust, the location of the planned protest, was empty. A group of people were redirecting protesters farther south. One woman said neighborhood residents “didn’t want it here.” A group of several hundred gathered down the street near 60th to listen to speakers.

“When we’re out here today, we want you to know that we’re coming from a place of love,” said Christopher Bowman, a teacher in West Philly and organizer with the group I Will Breathe. “We want the families in this neighborhood to feel safe … We don’t have to destroy what is already ours.”

Bowman asked protesters not to destroy property in the area because it will decrease property value, making the neighborhood easier to gentrify.

“Then we’re fighting two battles, justice for Black lives and justice for Black neighborhoods.”

He said he’s not angry specifically with the police officers who killed Wallace, but more so with the system that trained them.

“We can get rid of the cop, we can get rid of the system,” Bowman said. “What does that really do? It changes everything.”

Activist Christopher Bowman leads a chant as protesters march east on Pine Street during a march against the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One of the organizers, YahNé Ndgo, said the protest location was shifted to avoid re-traumatizing neighbors just five days after the incident that ended in Wallace being killed by police.

“Police officers, the same individuals who murdered our family member, our community member,” said Ndgo, pointing out a loud police helicopter flying overhead. “It is not good and right for us to stay here.”

Neighbors had asked the protesters to leave. “We listen to the community at all times,” said Gabe Bryant, another protest organizer.

From there, hundreds of racially diverse protesters moved toward 55th and Pine streets, police headquarters for the 18th District, with chants of “Black Lives Matter and Justice for Walter Wallace.”

Protesters on the move were flanked by police on bikes and in riot gear. Police officers were stationed on the roof of the police district building.

A Pine Street resident shouts encouragement and admonishments at passing protesters, telling them to ‘take that back to your own neighborhoods.’ (Emma Lee/WHYY)

On the way to 55th and Pine, neighborhood residents came out to cheer on the protesters from their porch — including Barbara and Doreen, who were saddened by Wallace’s death.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Barbara said. “It could’ve been handled in a different manner. And there’s no time for this. We already have one election coming up. We don’t need this.”

Many people in the area during the protest did not give their full names.

Protesters confront a line of police blocking Pine Street at 56th during a march against the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Stopped at 56th and Pine, protest organizer Carl Dix said he came down from New York for “another Black man killed by cops.” On the subject of voting, he told the crowd he voted this year, not because it will change everything, he said, but to help stop President Donald Trump and the rise of fascism.

After Dix spoke about the election, many organizers criticized his sentiment, saying that voting would not change a system that encourages racist white officers to kill Black people.

A woman wearing a red hat who identified herself as Ms. Sabrina cried, “Black Power!” as people cheered. Other protesters began to chant “From Philly to Nigeria,” in reference to the #EndSARS movement.

Noting that the police had them blocked in, the crowd began marching up 56th Street, then turned on Spruce. The protest continued to grow with marchers spanning several blocks. 

Hundreds of protesters march from the scene of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing to Malcolm X Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In an activism-inspired Halloween spirit, West Philly resident Cecily and her grandson Aiden decided to join the march while they were trick-or-treating because of its peaceful nature.

“Everything is terrible, and we all just got to come together in some sort of way and be united,” said Cecily, who lives in West Philly. 

Protesters march from the scene of Walter Wallace Jr.’s killing to Malcolm X Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Iquiara Williams was also near the march with her young one, 4-year-old Zaire Buchanan. Williams, 27, said injustice is something all too familiar for her, but she’s glad people can come together and protest.

“Hopefully their generation … will have a better chance,” Williams said.

“I think as long as they keep it peaceful, it’s OK,” said Cookie Searight, a neighbor of the park.

“I think Black Lives Matter and all the killings of African Americans are important for people to see,” said Angela Bosley, a 56-year resident of the neighborhood who was on her porch on Spruce Street as the march went past. “Just to be out on my porch and to be able to see it and to support it is great.”

Bosley said her neighborhood has never been this violent — police violence but also other community violence or crime.

“It’s not about race, it’s about healing and human lives.”

Protesters gather at Malcolm X Park responding to the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Protesters started to arrive at Malcolm X Park around 2 p.m., where Black Lives Matter Philly and the Philadelphia Student Union were hosting a Halloween protest event featuring costume prizes, giveaways, music, performances and a dance party starting at 3 p.m.

Some of the speakers at the park read a list of demands of the city from the Black Radical Collective, which is made up of members of MOVE, Philly for REAL Justice and other Black-led groups.

Protesters marching for Walter Wallace Jr. also carry signs for Anthony Smith, a community organizer who was arrested on federal charges related to George Floyd protests last spring. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The demands include an end to the criminalization of Black resistance, the permanent removal of symbols of police and state violence, and an end to the presence of militarized police in Black communities, plus many other requests. 

“The FOP presents itself as a labor union, but all they do is protect killer cops,” said organizer Krystal Strong. “We want to abolish the FOP.”

MOVE activist Mike Africa Jr. talked about the 1985 bombing that terrorized the same West Philadelphia community 35 years ago as the one where Walter Wallace Jr. was killed on Monday.

“The same system that dropped that bomb and killed those people is the same system that raided my home …” Africa said. “[That] slaughtered Native Americans into extinction, that brought African slaves, that killed George Floyd.”

At the park, there was noticeably fewer police present. The crowd in the park also was chanting #FreeAnt in reference to the Philadelphia activist and educator Anthony Smith, who was arrested Wednesday on charges related to police car damage during the George Floyd protests of the spring and summer. A group of protesters were at Malcolm X on Friday morning calling for his immediate release and maintaining his innocence.

In closing Saturday’s protest to prepare for the park’s next family-friendly event, speakers brought the conversation back to the main reason they were there.

“We’re here for one message. Say his name!” The crowd chanted back, “Walter Wallace!”

When the speeches ended, the crowd dispersed quickly, giving way to more of a party atmosphere and the community event,  — with food being distributed and poetry performances.

Keziah Ridgeway, one of the organizers of food distribution, said they gave out of $4,000 worth of groceries Saturday afternoon.

“It’s more than just protesting, right? You’ve got to make sure you’re helping a community in need,” said Ridgeway, who is a member of Black Lives Matter Philly and the group Racial Justice Organizing.

Ridgeway, a West Oak Lane resident, also helped start a group called Groceries for Philly, which was a result of the unrest happening during the George Floyd protests. Since then, that group has done a monthly donation event in areas that are considered food deserts.

She said what happened to Wallace shows there’s a clear disparity between how police respond to white people and how they respond to Black people.

“If you can figure out how to disarm someone with a gun who just shot up a church or a school or a movie theater, you can figure out how to disarm a man with a … knife,” Ridgeway said.

She added that she’s grown to love West Philadelphia, a community she said that has been through so much, from the 1985 MOVE bombing to the Wallace shooting in 2020.

“I think West Philly is becoming really special to me, because I think the people are really resilient and they are just amazing,” Ridgeway said. “And I am just grateful to just be able to help as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, at 61st and Hazel streets nearby, a citywide school donation drive was being held, with a large number of donations of school supplies, children’s books and clothing, diapers and other baby products, food and more. All Philadelphia students and parents were welcome to come and pick up supplies.

Around 3:45, the city announced there would be no curfew Saturday night.

The shooting, and its consequences to date

The rally, organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Philly and other groups, aimed to demand that the police officers who shot the 27-year-old Wallace be held accountable. Two officers responding to a 911 call fatally shot Wallace, who was armed with a knife. His family says they called an ambulance and that Wallace was being treated for bipolar disorder and had a history of mental illness.

Protests and looting began soon after video footage of the shooting circulated on social media. The marches and unrest continued for several nights, as police clashed with protesters.

In one incident, police pulled two people from a car and beat them as a toddler sat in the back seat. The toddler was separated from his mother for several hours and later found by his grandmother, injured, and sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser. One officer has been placed on desk duty pending an investigation.

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The protests occur against the backdrop of Tuesday’s presidential election, in which Pennsylvania is a key swing state, and the uprisings against police brutality and racial injustice this spring, which have raised tensions between communities and local police forces across the country.

Philadelphia officials and the family of Walter Wallace Jr. have agreed not to release body camera footage of the fatal shooting or the names of the officers involved until after Election Day. The names of the officers who shot and killed Wallace also will be released Nov. 4.

The family has said that it does not want the officers to be charged with murder, but that a wrongful death suit could be expected.

Overnight curfews were imposed in the city Wednesday and Friday. Pennsylvania National Guard troops called up by Gov. Tom Wolf earlier in the week deployed to Philadelphia Friday.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, who also is director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, declined to comment on the exact number of Guard troops, but he did say there were “substantially less” here than had been deployed during protests earlier this year.

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