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Police Killing in Philadelphia Roils Community; Officials Vow Investigation

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of West Philadelphia overnight to protest police officers’ fatal shooting of a 27-year-old Black man earlier Monday.

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of West Philadelphia overnight to protest police officers’ fatal shooting of a 27-year-old Black man earlier Monday.

A police spokeswoman said the shooting occurred at around 4 p.m. when two officers responded to a report of a man with a knife, later identified as Walter Wallace Jr. The 27-year-old’s father told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tueday that his son was on medication and struggled with mental health issues. 

Video footage posted to social media shows the frantic moments leading up to the shooting: Wallace walking toward officers who are backing away and ordering him to put the knife down; officers firing multiple shots at Wallace, who falls to the ground; and Wallace’s mother screaming as she runs out in front his body, followed by a throng of angry neighbors. 

“Y’all ain’t had to give him that many fucking shots!” the man who had been recording the scene yells to police in the footage.

A police spokesperson Monday night has said the officers fired possibly a dozen or more times, and that Wallace was pronounced dead at the hospital. The officers involved in the shooting have not been publicly identified.

Wallace’s shooting brought out hundreds to West Philly’s Malcolm X Park, at 51st and Pine streets. They assembled into Tuesday morning, chanting, “Black Lives Matter,” and marched to a police station at 55th and Pine streets where officers stood in line in riot gear behind metal barricades.

Dozens have been arrested, with police saying 29 officers suffered minor injuries in the demonstrations, such as being hit with thrown objects. A pickup truck driver struck one officer, breaking his leg. As of Tuesday morning, this officer was in stable condition at the hospital. 

Vandals and looters pillaged the commercial corridor along 52nd Street Monday night — an area also vandalized during the city’s protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. The vandals set one police vehicle on fire and damaged six others. Police reported around 20 arrests in relation to looting Monday night, some of which were made in areas far from the protest.

Local police union leader John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, issued a statement defending the officers involved in the shooting Monday. 

"Our police officers are being vilified this evening for doing their job and keeping the community safe, after being confronted by a man with a knife. We support and defend these officers, as they too are traumatized by being involved in a fatal shooting,” McNesby said. 

But city officials indicated that the officers’ actions are under review.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw noted in a statement Tuesday that the video of the incident raises many questions. 

“Residents have my assurance that those questions will be fully addressed by the investigation,” she said. “While at the scene this evening, I heard and felt the anger of the community. Everyone involved will forever be impacted. I will be leaning on what the investigation gleans to answer the many unanswered questions that exist.”

She and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney plan to meet with members of the community and Wallace’s family, she said. Kenney echoed Tuesday that the video footage “presents difficult questions that must be answered.” 

“I spoke tonight with Mr. Wallace’s family, and will continue to reach out to hear their concerns first-hand, and to answer their questions to the extent that I am able,” he said. “The Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit of PPD will conduct a full investigation.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Monday evening that his office’s Special Investigations Unit responded to the shooting and was also on the scene investigating.

As footage of the incident has spread across social media, many have taken to Twitter to criticize the officers’ fatal shooting of Wallace.

“He had a knife, but was not charging the offices. His mother begged them not to shoot him. If only the police were as interested in de-escalation as his poor mother,” Marc Lamont Hill, a communications professor at Temple University, tweeted Monday.

Ben Crump, an attorney in Tallahassee Florida, also tweeted that officers shot Wallace preemptively.

“He allegedly had a knife but cops made NO attempts at de-escalating the situation in this video,” Crump said. “They went straight to killing Wallace in front of his loved ones!”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania indicated Monday that it will have “more to say about this act of police violence, so horrifyingly familiar, very soon.” 

“Tonight our hearts ache for Walter Wallace, Jr., and for all those who loved him. Walter's killing at the hands of Philadelphia police is appalling,” the organization said. “Enough is enough.”