WARNING: This story contains graphic video. Please watch at your own discretion.
Officers fatally shot Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Black man with mental health issues, in front of his mother in West Philadelphia on Monday, touching off racial justice protests that escalated into anti-police violence and vandalism overnight.
Wallace Jr. was shot multiple times in an encounter with two officers, witness video shows. Both officers were responding to a call about a man with a knife, police say. They fired several shots at Wallace from a distance and he died in hospital later that evening.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney vowed in a statement to investigate the “tragic incident,” adding that the witness video “presents difficult questions that must be answered.”
Video recorded at the scene shows the moments leading up to the shooting. Two officers confront Wallace on a residential street lined with parked cars, and Wallace walks slowly and steadily toward one of them. Both officers have their guns out and shout at him to stop and stand down. He remains at least three metres (10 feet) from the nearest officer at all times.
The footage shows a woman, identified by the Philadelphia Inquirer as Wallace’s mother, rushing up to hold him back as he crosses the street toward an officer. Several bystanders can be heard shouting, but Wallace shrugs off his mom and circles around a parked car before walking toward one of the officers.
Wallace appears to be holding a knife as he crosses the street, the footage shows.
One officer lowers his gun and shouts “Put the knife down!” The officers shout for Wallace to drop the knife again, then back up together as Wallace follows them into the middle of the street.
Wallace is about three metres away from the officers with one hand raised when they open fire. He is walking at the time.
The camera dips at the moment when the shots are fired, but at least 10 gunshots can be heard. A few of them ring out almost simultaneously, suggesting that both officers were shooting at the same time.
The camera tilts up to show Wallace crumpling to the ground. His mother shrieks and rushes over to him, and several other witnesses start yelling and running to stand by him.
“Bro, they just killed him in front of me!” the man with the camera says. “Y’all didn’t have to give him that many f–king shots!”
Wallace died in hospital later on Monday.
Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., says his son had mental health issues and was on medication.
“Why didn’t they use a Taser?” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “His mother was trying to defuse the situation.”
Wallace’s death triggered intense backlash in Philadelphia and on social media, reigniting the outcry over police violence against Black people.
“He had a knife, but was not charging the officers,” Temple University College professor Marc Lamont Hill tweeted. “His mother begged them not to shoot him. If only the police were as interested in de-escalation as his poor mother.”
Philadelphia Coun. Jamie Gauthier, who represents Wallace’s district, called for police to release the bodycam footage of the shooting.
“We must acknowledge that things did not need to play out this way,” she said in a statement, adding that the officers should have used non-lethal weapons and de-escalation techniques instead of guns.
“Had these officers valued the life of this Black man — had they treated him as a person experiencing mental health issues, instead of a criminal — we might be spared our collective outrage at yet another injustice at the hands of police.”
Many people, including Gauthier, shared photos of Wallace, who was a twin, on social media.
The officers have not been publicly identified. They were taken off active street duty pending an investigation, police told the Inquirer.
Dozens gathered at the scene to protest the shooting, and approximately 300 people showed up for a larger demonstration later Monday night, according to reports. They chanted slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Say his name, Walter Wallace,” as they marched toward a nearby police precinct.
Photos and videos from Monday night show escalating violence between protesters and police, who showed up in riot gear as the demonstrations grew. At least 30 officers were injured overnight, police said.
One video shows a pickup truck hitting a police officer in the middle of the street. Several officers were on the road at the time and a fire was burning in the middle of the intersection. The officer was hospitalized with a broken leg and other injuries, police told NBC 10.
One video shows officers advancing on the protesters with riot shields outside a police precinct. The protesters can be seen throwing various objects, including trash cans and blue bins, into the crowd of police.
Four officers were struck by bricks overnight, police said. They were treated in hospital and later released.
Footage from the protest shows several fires were lit during the protest, and at least one police vehicle was burned.
The outcry follows a summer filled with protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism. The calls for racial justice hit a boiling point in May after the death of George Floyd, who suffocated in police custody in Minneapolis. Protesters have also demanded accountability in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
“Residents have my assurance that those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation,” police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a statement on Monday. “While at the scene this evening, I heard and felt the anger of the community. Everyone involved will forever be impacted.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner vowed on Monday to conduct a full investigation into the latest shooting.
“We intend to go where the facts and law lead us and to do so carefully, without rushing to judgment and without bias of any kind,” Krasner said in a statement.
“In the hours and days following this shooting, we ask Philadelphians to come together to uphold people’s freedom to express themselves peacefully and to reject violence of any kind.”