Killing of Walter Wallace
|Date||October 26, 2020|
|Time||4 p.m. EDT|
|Location||6100 Locust Street, Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
On October 26, 2020, Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old African-American man, was shot by Philadelphia police officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz in Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The two officers arrived in the area to respond to a domestic dispute. When they arrived, Wallace walked out of his house carrying a knife. The two officers backed away while telling him to drop the knife shortly before they each fired several rounds at Wallace, hitting him in the shoulder and chest. He later died from his wounds in the hospital. Wallace's family stated that Wallace was having a mental health crisis.
Wallace's killing gained attention after a cellphone video of the incident was posted to social media platforms, where it went viral. Protests against the killing occurred throughout Philadelphia in late October. Peaceful protests took place, as well as several protests which escalated into violence and looting, leading to arrests, injuries to police and protesters, deployment of the Pennsylvania National Guard, and a citywide curfew.
- Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old aspiring rapper and father of eight who was married in October 2020 and employed as an Uber Eats driver. According to family members and the family's attorney, Wallace suffered from mental illness, including bipolar disorder, and was taking lithium. Between 2013 and 2020, Wallace pled guilty to several criminal charges and was repeatedly ordered by judges to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment. A funeral service for him was held on November 7, 2020 at the National Temple Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.
- Sean Matarazzo, a 25-year-old Philadelphia police officer who joined the department in 2018.
- Thomas Munz, a 26-year-old Philadelphia police officer who joined the department in 2017.
On October 26, 2020, police attended three separate times to Wallace's parents' house on the 6100 block of Locust Street in the predominantly black neighborhood of Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia. Around 3:45 p.m., during their third arrival, Officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz came in response to reports of a person screaming and a man assaulting an elderly female. Several 9-1-1 calls were made by Wallace's sister, brother, and neighbor, telling dispatchers that Wallace was assaulting his parents. Wallace's sister asked for a medic on the scene as her mother's blood pressure was rising and her father was feeling faint, also informing the dispatcher that Wallace was on probation and had a criminal record. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said the police dispatch prior to the shooting said, "Tell the officers to use caution in responding to this, it’s an ongoing domestic issue going on up there." It is unknown if the officers were familiar with Wallace prior to their arrival.
At 3:48 p.m., the responding officers arrived at the house, standing about 15 feet away from the front. An unknown person from inside the house said, "Put the knife down," three times. Wallace then walked out of his house and onto his porch carrying a knife in his right hand. Both officers drew their guns and yelled for Wallace to "put the knife down" around 11 times. Wallace walked down his front steps and towards the officers. He then turned away from the officers and walked towards the other end of the street. His mother followed him into the street and attempted to grab him before he brushed her aside as officers asked her to move away from Wallace. An unknown woman yelled to the officers that Wallace was "mental" multiple times. Wallace then walked back into the street while Matarazzo and Munz continued to aim their guns at him, repeating for him to "put the knife down".
Wallace's mother told the officers not to shoot him moments before shots were fired. An unknown man said "Get him," and "Shoot him," before each officer fired about seven times, with an unknown number of shots hitting Wallace. Wallace's mother ran to him as he was dying, and yelled at officers, "You killed my son!" The shots hit Wallace in the shoulder and chest. One of the officers placed Wallace in a police vehicle and drove him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
The officers involved in the shooting were moved to desk duty pending an investigation.
The attorney for the Wallace family, Shaka Johnson, said the family had called for an ambulance to get Wallace help with a mental health crisis, not for police intervention, and that Wallace was suffering from bipolar disorder. Wallace's parents said officers knew their son was in a mental health crisis because they had been to the family's house three times on October 26. The family does not want murder charges filed against the officers, and intend to file a wrongful death lawsuit. They also called for the police department's responses to mental health crises to change.
On November 4, the officers involved in the shooting were identified. Investigations into the shooting by the PPD's Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation Unit and the Special Investigations Unit of the District Attorney's office are ongoing.
Cellphone video and body camera footage
Wallace's killing first received attention on social media, where a cellphone video of the incident captured by onlooker JaHiem Simpson was posted to social media, subsequently going viral. On October 30, the Wallace family reviewed footage from police body cameras worn by Matarazzo and Munz during the shooting. Johnson stated that, based on the footage, Wallace was suffering from an "obvious mental health crisis" and he was incapacitated after the first shot. On November 4, part of the footage was released to the public, marking the first time in the PPD's history that body camera footage for a police shooting was publicly released. According to District Attorney Krasner, who called the footage "traumatic" and "painful" in a press conference before its release, only the portion of the footage that the Wallace family felt was appropriate to share was released. The department also released a series of 9-1-1 calls made by several individuals, including Wallace's sister and brother, as well as one of Wallace's neighbors.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the shooting raised "difficult questions that must be answered". Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw noted that neither officer was equipped with a Taser, adding that the department only had around 2,300 Tasers at the time of the shooting, which Outlaw said she intended to increase to 4,500. She also said that she would be creating a behavioral health unit within the PPD as well as a directory for officers that lists mental health resources available during all hours of the day. She added that the department would begin crisis intervention training with dispatchers which would help them better identify crisis-related calls for specially trained officers to handle alongside civilian mental health experts.
Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby showed support for the officers, saying, "Our police officers are being vilified for doing their job and keeping the community safe, after being confronted by a man with a knife. We support and defend these officers."
The then-presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris published a joint statement saying, "Our hearts are broken for the family of Walter Wallace Jr... We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death."
Protests and rioting
Protests and demonstrations against police brutality and institutional racism in response to Wallace's killing took place across Philadelphia throughout late October. Peaceful demonstrations took place, while others escalated into clashes between police and protesters. According to Philadelphia officials, as of October 31, there had been a total of 225 arrests, 60 injured police officers, 617 incidents of looting, 18 damaged vehicles, and 24 ATM explosions.
On the night of October 26 into the morning of October 27, protesters marched through West Philadelphia, and video posted on social media appeared to show the police clashing with demonstrators. Those marching shared that the march was peaceful until protesters came upon a group of police officers near the Philadelphia Police 18th District. The violence and unrest then spread to other parts of West Philadelphia and other adjacent city neighborhoods. Police arrested at least 91 people overnight, charging most with looting.
According to reports from the PPD, thirty police officers were injured, in most cases by bricks and rocks that were thrown by protesters. Five police vehicles and one fire department vehicle were vandalized. One police officer received a broken leg after being hit by a pickup truck.
On October 27, the state and city authorities requested help from the Pennsylvania National Guard, which then mobilized several hundred soldiers. According to police reports, businesses began getting looted right before 9 pm in North Philadelphia, with allegedly 1,000 people looting businesses in Port Richmond. Residents from several districts of Philadelphia were instructed by police to stay indoors to avoid "widespread demonstrations that have turned violent with looting".
The Party for Socialism and Liberation held a march from Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia through the University of Pennsylvania campus to Clark Park, which was attended by around 1,000 people. Protestors at the march called for community control of the police, defunding of the PPD, and the arrest of the officers involved. The march was endorsed by six justice organizations, including the Penn Community for Justice and the city's Black Lives Matter chapter.
Violence broke out between police and protesters near a police precinct, with some in the crowd throwing rocks, light bulbs, and bricks at the police, leaving one officer injured. Police officers armed with riot gear lined the streets, and broke up large groups to arrest those accused of throwing projectiles, by hitting them with batons and tackling them. At least 23 officers were injured, nine police vehicles were damaged, and 81 arrests were made on charges of trespassing, assault on police, and disorderly conduct.
Video footage from the protests on October 27 also showed a slow-moving SUV being surrounded by police. Officers with batons surrounded the vehicle, broke its windows, pulled its driver and a passenger, Rickia Young and her teenage nephew, from the car, threw them onto the ground, and then pulled Young's 2-year-old son from the backseat. Young had to be taken to the hospital for injuries sustained in the arrest and was later released without charges. The Fraternal Order of Police posted a photo of a policewoman holding Young's son to Twitter and Facebook, claiming that the child had been found wandering the streets and that they were protecting him. The Young's family attorney accused the police union of lying in the post showing an officer carrying the toddler, which was later removed, and according to the police union, they "learned of conflicting accounts of the circumstances" over how the toddler ended up in the hands of police. The city paid Young an out-of-court settlement of $2 million in September 2021.
In response to the protests, Philadelphia announced a citywide curfew on October 28 from 9:00 pm on October 28 to 6:00 am the following day. No major protests took place that day. 40 people were arrested for charges including assault on police, burglary, failure to curfew, and vehicle theft. Four police officers were injured, and 11 automated teller machines (ATMs) were blown up.
On October 30, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf deployed the National Guard to Philadelphia and stationed them outside City Hall and the Municipal Services Building. Another curfew was imposed, beginning at 9 pm on October 30 and ending at 6 am on October 31. Two men were charged with felony possession of weapons of mass destruction after illegal explosives, bolt cutters and machetes were found in their van. Officials said the two men were attempting to blow up ATMs.
A crowd estimated at upward of 1,000 turned out in West Philadelphia for a protest on October 31, with the demonstration originally due to gather at 61st and Locust streets, near the site of the original killing.
On November 4, following the release of officers' body camera footage, a crowd of about 300 people gathered outside of City Hall to protest.
US President Donald Trump connected the riots with Mayor Kenney, saying that "the mayor or whoever it is that's allowing people to riot and loot and not stop them is... just a horrible thing" and stating that they took place in "a Democrat-run state, a Democrat-run city". Trump also claimed, "Philadelphia was torn up by Biden-supporting radicals", without providing evidence for the claim, adding, "Biden stands with the rioters, and I stand with the heroes of law enforcement." White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah said on October 27 that the White House was "prepared to deploy federal resources" in response to the unrest. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany similarly suggested in a statement that the White House "stands ready, upon request, to deploy any and all federal resources to end these riots", calling them "the most recent consequence of the liberal Democrats' war against the police".
Biden responded to the protests saying, "There is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence. None whatsoever. I think to be able to protest is totally legitimate. It's totally reasonable."
A group of protestors gathered in Portland, Oregon on October 27, and marched through North Portland. It was one of three separate demonstrations in the city that night, with one crowd gathering at Arbor Lodge Park and marched to Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan's house, and called on him to further defund the Portland Police Bureau.
Protests and violence were seen in New York City on October 27, with protesters arrested in Brooklyn after reports of damage to property. Police stated that police vehicles were damaged, and trash cans, American flags and additional objects were set on fire in videos on social media. Officers and protesters met near Boerum Place, a train station in Brooklyn, where several officers were reportedly injured after a car tried to drive through a group of police.
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