The family said police responded to calls to the house earlier Monday to deal with Wallace, who was having a mental health crisis.
PHILADELPHIA — The 911 call Walter Wallace Jr.’s family made on Monday was for an ambulance to get the young man help with a mental health crisis, according to an attorney for the family.
Wallace’s family did not expect police to arrive, and they did not expect police to fatally shoot him.
“Officers who are properly trained should notice certain things when they arrive at a scene,” Shaka Johnson, an attorney who is representing the family, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Especially when his wife tells you, ‘Stand down, officers, he’s manic bipolar.’”
Wallace’s parents said on Tuesday that officers knew their son was in a mental health crisis because officers had been to the family’s house two other times on Monday.
“When you come to a scene where somebody is in a mental crisis, and the only tool you have to deal with it is a gun … where are the proper tools for the job?” Johnson said.
Philadelphia police said they could not confirm the number of calls Wallace’s family had placed Monday, whether the officers who shot Wallace were the same officers who went to his home earlier in the day, what information the officers had, or whether the officers were told about a possible mental illness. Chief Police Inspector Frank Vanore confirmed that police had received a call before the fatal encounter Monday about a man screaming and saying that he was armed with a knife.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has said the officers involved in the shooting were taken off street duty while officials investigate. District Attorney Larry Krasner is handling the investigation.
Krasner said during a news conference on Tuesday that he has not yet decided whether to file charges against the officers.
“We are not out to cover for anybody. We are not out to get anybody,” Krasner said, according to WHYY. “We have to get all the information, consider it carefully, find the facts, consider the law, and go wherever they lead us.”
Outlaw said officials would withhold the officers’ names and other identifying information, including their race, until the department can be sure releasing the information will not pose a threat to the officers’ safety.
Neither officer had a Taser or similar device at the time of the shooting, Outlaw said, noting the department had previously asked for funding to equip more officers with those devices.
Outlaw also said a new city program that puts behavioral health specialists in the police dispatch center to help identify calls that require mental health assistance only operates during limited hours, and a counselor was not in the dispatch center when Wallace’s family called on Monday.
“Don’t tell me you only have one mental health person on duty,” pastor Pamela Kay Williams said at a community meeting Tuesday night. “Something’s wrong with that. You can’t have one mental health person on duty when you have a whole community.”
Others shared Williams’ skepticism, and held marches and protests across the city Tuesday night.
It was the second night of protests in the city. On Monday night, the protests were mainly in the West Philadelphia neighborhood where Wallace was shot.
City officials are bracing for another night of protests, and have set a curfew from 9 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday. Curfews historically have been used to suppress Black communities.
Gov. Tom Wolf has mobilized the National Guard at the request of city officials, and Guardsmen are scheduled to arrive in the city Friday and Saturday to guard infrastructure, city officials said.
And Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris issued a statement Tuesday evening, saying they were heartbroken over Wallace’s death.
“We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death,” they said. “It makes the shock and grief and violence of yesterday’s shooting that much more painful, especially for a community that has already endured so much trauma. Walter Wallace’s life, like too many others’, was a Black life that mattered — to his mother, to his family, to his community, to all of us.”
They discouraged vandalism and violence.
“Attacking police officers and vandalizing small businesses, which are already struggling during a pandemic, does not bend the moral arc of the universe closer to justice. It hurts our fellow citizens,” they said. “Looting is not a protest, it is a crime. It draws attention away from the real tragedy of a life cut short.”
President Donald Trump issued a statement, saying the protests in Philadelphia “are the most recent consequence of the Liberal Democrats’ war against the police.”
He said he “stands proudly with law enforcement” and is ready to deploy federal resources to “end” the protests.
The right to protest is protected under the First Amendment.
Disabled People, Black People More Likely to Be Killed by Police
Data show that police officers across the country are failing to properly respond to calls that require mental health assistance.
While 18.8% of adults in the US are living with some type of mental illness, those adults represent 25% to 50% of the people killed in police shootings.
Studies have shown that Black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be shot and killed by police. One in 1,000 Black men will be killed by police, making it the leading cause of death among young Black men.
“That 1-in-1,000 number struck us as quite high,” Frank Edwards, a sociologist at Rutgers University and leader of one study, told The Los Angeles Times in 2019. “That’s better odds of being killed by police than you have of winning a lot of scratch-off lottery games.”
And the likelihood of a Black man being killed by police increases if the man has mental illness.
Black women are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by police, and the likelihood increases if they have mental illness.
Police Killings of Mentally Ill Black People Keep Happening
We see Black men and women with mental illness die year after year in cities across the US.
In March 2015, when police in DeKalb County, Georgia, received a call of a naked, “possibly demented” Black man walking around an apartment complex in the middle of the day, they responded by shooting him. The man, Anthony Hill, was a 27-year-old Afghanistan war veteran who had bipolar disorder and was off his medication.
In October 2016, when an apartment building security guard called New York City police to report that resident Deborah Danner was ranting in a hallway and tearing down posters, officers responded and shot her in her apartment. Danner, a 66-year-old Black woman, “was a paranoid schizophrenic,” according to a lawyer for her family.
In May 2019, a police officer in Baytown, Texas, shot and killed Pamela Turner, a 44-year-old Black woman who was living with paranoid schizophrenia, during a confrontation in her apartment complex. A lawyer for Turner’s family said the officer was one of Turner’s neighbors and knew she suffered from mental illness.
In June 2019, Taun Hall called 911, hoping police could help subdue her 23-year-old son, who was struggling with mental illness and was extremely agitated. Walnut Creek, California, police shot the young Black man.
In March, Joseph Prude called 911, hoping someone could help his brother. Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, was wandering the street in Rochester, New York, naked and babbling. Joseph Prude said his brother was suffering a mental breakdown related to drug use. Police covered Daniel Prude’s head with a hood, reportedly to keep him from spitting on them, restrained him, and then pressed his head to the pavement for 2 minutes. During that time, Daniel Prude stopped breathing.
On Monday, Philadelphia police responded to the call to Wallace’s house. Video recorded by a bystander shows two police officers standing in the middle of the street with their guns pointed at Wallace. A woman, later identified as Wallace’s mother, was close behind him, but he did not turn to face her or point anything at her. Police shouted at Wallace to put down a knife.
The video shows Wallace walking around a car, and coming to face police. The video swings to the ground for about 4 seconds, and the sound of gunshots can be heard. It’s hard to tell from the video how many shots the police fired, but witnesses said police fired at least a dozen rounds. When the camera swings back up, the video shows Wallace’s body falling to the ground in roughly the same spot he was standing several seconds earlier.
Philadelphia Community Leaders See a Double Standard, Call for Change
State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and members of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity said Tuesday that police would have responded differently to Wallace if he was white and lived in the suburbs.
“He would not be shot down the street,” the Rev. Gregory Holston, the leader of the Black Clergy’s justice committee, said during a rally. “He would have been loved. He would have been nurtured. They would have been waiting patiently to find some way to bring him in without putting 10 bullets in his body.”
Holston pointed out that police were able to subdue Dylann Roof without firing their guns after he shot and killed nine Black Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Rev. Robert Collier, president of the group of clergy, called Wallace’s death “senseless” and “unnecessary.”
“You cannot tell me that two armed policemen could not apprehend one Black man with a knife. I don’t care if he had a machete. They didn’t have to use the force they did,” Collier said.
Wallace recently married. His wife, Dominique Wallace, is pregnant and was scheduled to be induced Wednesday, according to the family’s attorney, Shaka Johnson. Johnson said Wallace had nine children—two briefly spoke at a news conference late Tuesday, along with Walter Wallace’s mother and father.
Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., said Tuesday night that he is haunted by the way his son was “butchered.”
“It’s in my mind. I can’t even sleep at night. I can’t even close my eyes,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.