PHILADELPHIA—Hundreds gathered in West Philadelphia on Tuesday to protest the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr, a 27-year-old Black man, hours after ferocious unrest in response to the incident sent a chunk of the city into chaos.
It didn’t take all that long for things to get ugly again.
In video captured by an eyewitness and posted to social media, police on Monday afternoon fired several shots at Wallace Jr., who was seen approaching the officers with a knife—and whose mother was on hand, pleading for de-escalation. Two officers, whose names have not been released, each fired about seven times, police announced at a Tuesday press conference. According to Wallace Jr.’s family’s attorney, Shaka Johnson, they contacted emergency services for assistance with an ongoing mental health crisis, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that officers had visited the home twice that day before the shooting.
Wallace Jr., who reportedly had seven children and whose wife was expecting, was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Within hours of the shooting, protests kicked off, and while they began peacefully, tensions surged, with social media footage showing police beating protesters and protesters throwing objects—including bricks—at cops. Looting was also reported at stores hit during previous racial-justice protests this spring.
The difference from a wave of local unrest after the police killing of George Floyd in May: a hotly-contested presidential election centering in no small part on law-and-order was now in its final days.
“I hope there’s no looting or rioting because that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about taking away from the community or the people of West Philly,” Brittany Meyers. 28, of West Philadelphia, told The Daily Beast as protests began again Tuesday evening. “But I will defend my home against these cops. And whoever gets in office next has to address this racism.”
At the peak of the mayhem late Monday and early Tuesday, a local news van was damaged and at least one police car was set on fire. By the end of the evening, according to the most recent release from the Philadelphia Police Department, 91 people were arrested and 30 officers were injured, including one officer who was hit by a car at 52nd and Walnut Streets.
On Tuesday, the National Guard was activated. And while protests began without incident that evening, by 9 p.m. looting had again been reported in some parts of the city.
Still, protesters were leery of a president who has repeatedly singled out their polling places for scrutiny from his rabid fans, tweeting on Tuesday, “Philadelpiha [sic] MUST HAVE POLLWATCHERS!”
“Philadelphia is sick and tired of being sick and tired,” J.T. Hall, 30, told The Daily Beast. “And it doesn’t help that we have a president that says, you know, ‘Bad things happen in Philadelphia.’ It needs to stop.”
Around 9:30 at the intersection of 52nd and Market Streets, a line of no more than 20 officers were surrounded by dozens protesters chanting, “Who killed Walter Wallace?” Within minutes, several carloads of back-up officers arrived on the scene and trash was thrown from within the crowd of protesters. A few officers began to attempt to push the line of the crowd away from them, resulting in a protester being knocked over. Chaos ensued and officers drew their batons, beating protesters, and using pepper spray on those standing nearby.
Neither major-party presidential nominee was popular on the street Tuesday. In fact, several signs designed to bolster get out the vote efforts in Philadelphia were torn off street posts and set on fire in the middle of Chestnut Street between 48th and 47th streets. First responders arrived on the scene within minutes to put out the flames. A few small fires (most of which were contained to trash cans) peppered the street.
For his part, Hall said he turned out to protest after watching what he described as “the rebellion” play out Monday.
“It’s not looting. It’s a rebellion,” he said. “You want to take our lives? We’ll hit you in your pockets.”