Shaka Johnson, the family’s attorney, said that earlier Thursday he had watched body-camera footage from the shooting. Police arrived at the scene Monday after Wallace’s family members called for help multiple times amid what Johnson described as chaos and medical concerns in the Philadelphia home.
“There was a person in obvious mental health crisis,” Johnson said, adding that Wallace’s family had “asked for the whole buffet of services from 911,” including police officers, but said those who showed up were not prepared for what they found.
Police officers arriving on the scene shot and killed Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, setting off successive nights of protests, looting and property damage. His death is the latest chapter in the often-painful history between this city’s police department and many of its residents.
Police say the officers who encountered Wallace were responding to a call about a man with a knife. The Philadelphia police union’s president said Wallace was “aggressively” approaching the officers. Wallace’s family has said he was in the midst of a mental crisis and wondered why responding officers did not use a Taser to subdue him; the police department later said neither officer was equipped with the less-lethal device.
“I understand he had a knife . . . that does not give you carte blanche to execute a man,” Johnson said.
Wallace is one of at least 806 people whom police have fatally shot in 2020, according to a Washington Post database. Mental health issues are a consistent factor in many of the shootings, with about 1 in 5 of those fatally shot by police known to have been dealing with such concerns or experiencing crises at the time of the encounters.
Speaking briefly Thursday, Wallace’s parents both called for “justice” in the case. Johnson said the family did not think the officers should be charged with murder, because “they were improperly trained and did not have the proper equipment.”
He declined to say whether either officer should face any criminal charges, leaving that decision to the office of District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has pledged to consider the case carefully. Police declined to comment on Johnson’s remarks, citing the ongoing investigation.
City officials said Thursday night they expected to release the body camera footage and 911 recordings by the end of next week.
After the protests gave way to looting and unrest Monday and Tuesday nights, the city imposed a curfew Wednesday, which was considerably calmer. The city said Thursday that there had been more than 200 arrests and more than 50 officers injured since the unrest began this week. Officials encouraged people to stay home Thursday night but did not impose another curfew.
Wallace’s shooting echoed a circumstance seen this year in other cities — including Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta and Kenosha, Wis. — where long-standing tensions between police departments and their communities burst to the fore after a violent encounter.
“There is a lot of animosity — and I think rightly so — when it comes to local law enforcement,” said the Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church. “No matter what, regardless what the policy is, the interaction between African American men and law enforcement tends to be hostile.”
For some residents, the shooting was a reminder that despite promises of reform from the city and police, the work has still not been enough to prevent incidents like Monday’s shooting.
“A lot changed, but we still can’t call them for help,” said Johnathan Riddick, 41, who lives on the block where Wallace was shot. “This is what happens.”
When Danielle Outlaw was tapped to lead the police department late last year, Mayor Jim Kenney (D) repeatedly brought up the need for reforming the department in touting the selection. This week, Outlaw has emphasized that she heard the community’s anger and sadness, saying that “everyone involved, including the officers, will forever be impacted by this tragedy.”
City officials have provided scant details about the shooting. John McNesby, the president of the Philadelphia police union, called on the city to “release what you have” about the shooting and to “support your officers.”
Outlaw took over a department with a troubled past, said David Rudovsky, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania law school and a longtime civil rights lawyer in Philadelphia.
“There’s a long, long history of antagonism between the police department and the community, at least the minority community,” Rudovsky said. Outlaw and Kenney have shown promise on reforms, he said, “but they’re living with a legacy of bad policing.”
What unfolded in Philadelphia this week stems from both the local history and the nationwide climate surrounding policing, said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, whose group was hired by Philadelphia to help with the search that picked Outlaw.
“We’re in the middle of a major sea change in American policing,” Wexler said. “And in a city like Philadelphia, it can be like a powder keg.”
The city and the department have faced lawsuits, including over stop-and-frisk policies. They also have taken some proactive steps to address issues facing police forces across the country, including when Charles H. Ramsey, as police commissioner, called in the Justice Department to review how Philadelphia’s police use deadly force.
Residents have more recently criticized Philadelphia police for using tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators in the protests that followed George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council barred police from using “less lethal” tactics on demonstrators.
More policing issues will come before Philadelphia residents on Election Day, with ballot questions asking whether voters want to create a citizens’ police oversight group and to “end the practice of unconstitutional stop and frisk.”
Standing on the sidewalk not far from where Wallace was killed, Riddick and Marc “Spark” Willfly, also a resident, said that since Kenney took office, they had fewer interactions with police in their community. That meant fewer bad encounters but also that officers rarely stopped to meet residents.
“They ride up and down here all day, but they don’t mess with people,” said Willfly, 45.
Ramsey, the former police chief, said the unrest in Philadelphia and other cities this year showed how “fragile” the relationships between police and their communities can be.
“It takes time to build relationships,” said Ramsey, who retired in 2016. “But it doesn’t take that long for those relationships to dissolve.”
Berman reported from Washington.