Were Philadelphia police justified in shooting knife-wielding Wallace?


Fact Box

  • Protests against “police brutality and systemic racism” have erupted across the United States after the unfortunate death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. 
  • On Monday, October 26, 27-year-old Black man, Walter Wallace Jr. was fatally shot by two police officers after he “refused to drop his knife” as his mother attempted to restrain him. His mother noted Wallace was struggling with a “mental health crisis.”
  • After Wallace’s shooting, protests raged on in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. About 30 police officers were injured and 33 people were arrested on charges of rioting, looting, and assault. 
  • Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney expressed his sympathies with the family, and “promised a full investigation” after watching the tragic video.

Kevin (No)

Walter Wallace Jr. may have been wielding a knife when police shot him; however, the 911 call they were responding to was a mental-health call. According to an attorney representing the family, the call specifically requested an ambulance--not the police. Additionally, a police inspector said that 'each officer fired about seven rounds,' which seems like an overreaction from officers who are supposed to be trained in such situations. Further questions surrounding the police presence and actions come to light in a Philadelphia Inquirer report, stating that police had been called to the residence several times and had apparently 'responded twice' previously to Wallace's house on the same day.

In the words of City Council member Jamie Gauthier, 'Had these officers employed de-escalation techniques and nonlethal weapons rather than making the split-second decision to fire their guns, this young man might still have his life tonight.' Members of the community have questioned why the two officers involved in the killing reacted with deadly force immediately, to which Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has responded, saying they 'were not equipped with stun guns due to the department's limited resources.' Referencing this situation and the lack of equipment, Outlaw is also quoted as saying, 'We have to adapt our training.' It is worth noting that Philadelphia is among the top three spenders on police budgets on a per-capita basis, out of the ten largest cities in the US. It should also be noted that more violent subjects who happened to be white have often been apprehended by police safely.

Bill (Yes)

Philadelphia police were justified in shooting knife-wielding Walter Wallace, as unfortunately, his decisions on Monday directly led to the use of such force--and ultimately his demise. 

Officers responded to three separate calls to Wallace's home on Monday for domestic disturbances--in other words, Wallace had multiple chances to correct his behavior before things turned fatal. It's important to note that Wallace's own family called the police to intervene on their behalf because they believed he was a threat to their safety. 

A crucial detail to consider is that Wallace had a violent criminal history and his family knew what he was capable of. One of Wallace's prior offenses (to which he pled guilty) was resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. 

When police responded a third time to Wallace's house on Monday afternoon, he had 'a knife in his possession, and he was brandishing it and waiving it erratically.' Wallace ignored police orders to drop his weapon and instead advanced toward them with knife in-hand. Wallace even resisted his own mother's attempt to intervene and prevent a violent confrontation with law enforcement officers. Incredibly, Wallace continued toward the police with a deadly weapon and was ultimately met with deadly force in return, after ignoring repeated attempts to surrender.

In order to have a civilized society, we enact laws that govern which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Police officers are tasked with upholding those laws and restoring order when things go awry. Walter Wallace's decision to break society's laws and make himself a threat to his family and the police officers at the scene led to his death; he alone is responsible.

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