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Philadelphia rocked by second night of unrest after fatal police shooting of Black man

Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest against police brutality in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Oct. 27, 2020.
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest against police brutality in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Oct. 27, 2020. © REUTERS - Bastiaan Slabbers
7 min

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Philadelphia late Tuesday with looting and violence breaking out in a second night of unrest after the latest police shooting of a Black man in the US. The victim's family said they called an  ambulance, not the police, for a mental health crisis, according to their lawyer

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The Philadelphia police department warned on Twitter that "a large crowd" of around 1,000 people was looting businesses in the area of Castor Avenue and Aramingo Avenue, advising citizens to "avoid the area".

Footage from a news helicopter appeared to show people breaking into and looting a Foot Locker sneaker store and another business. At another location in West Philadelphia, where an estimated crowd of 1,000 people had gathered, an AFP reporter saw police armed with batons clashing violently with several dozen protesters.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's office announced the deployment of several hundred National Guard troops to the city "to protect the right to peacefully assemble and protest while keeping people safe".

Family called for ambulance, not police, says lawyer

The unrest came as the lawyer for the victim’s family said they had called for an ambulance to get him help with a mental health crisis, not for police intervention.

Police said Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was wielding a knife and ignored orders to drop the weapon before officers fired shots Monday afternoon. But his parents said Tuesday night that officers knew their son was in a mental health crisis because they had been to the family's house three times on Monday.

Cathy Wallace, his mother, said that during one of those times, “they stood there and laughed at us”.

The Wallace family's attorney, Shaka Johnson, said the victim's wife, Dominique Wallace, is pregnant and is scheduled to have labour induced Wednesday. Johnson said Wallace had nine children – two briefly spoke at a news conference late Tuesday, along with the victim's mother and father.

“When you come to a scene where somebody is in a mental crisis, and the only tool you have to deal with it is a gun ... where are the proper tools for the job?” Johnson said, arguing that Philadelphia police officers are not properly trained to handle mental health crises. Johnson said Wallace's brother had called 911 to request medical assistance and an ambulance.

White House blames "Liberal Democrats' war against the police"

In Washington, the White House issued a statement early Wednesday asserting that the unrest was another consequence of “Liberal Democrats’ war against the police” and that the Trump administration “stands proudly with law enforcement, and stands ready, upon request, to deploy any and all Federal resources to end these riots”.

"Law enforcement is an incredibly dangerous occupation, and thousands of officers have given their lives in the line of duty,” said the statement from press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “All lethal force incidents must be fully investigated. The facts must be followed wherever they lead to ensure fair and just results. In America, we resolve conflicts through the courts and the justice system. We can never allow mob rule.”

Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger in the November 3 presidential election, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, said in a statement that their "hearts are broken" for Wallace's family.

But they also called on demonstrators to protest peacefully.

"No amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence," they said.

More than 90 arrests were made during the first night of sporadic riots and looting in the city Monday, and 30 police officers were injured, including one whose leg was broken when he was hit by a truck.

The US has seen a wave of Black Lives Matter protests and rioting since the death of George Floyd in May in Minnesota, when an officer was filmed pressing his knee into Floyd's neck until the handcuffed man went limp.

Many of the protests have accused the police of racism and brutality, but President Donald Trump has focused on the unrest to bolster his claims of being the "law-and-order" candidate in his election battle against Biden.

Video shows mother trying to restrain victim

Local media reported that two officers shot Wallace around 4pm local time (0900 GMT) Monday after he refused to drop the knife as his mother tried to restrain him.

Phone video of the killing posted on social media showed Wallace push his mother away and then walk towards the police.

"Put the knife down," one of the officers shouted in the video, which panned away as officers opened fire.

Wallace's father, Walter Wallace Sr., said his son appeared to have been shot 10 times, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Why didn't they use a Taser?" the paper quoted him as saying. "He has mental issues. Why you have to gun him down?" he added, saying that his son was on medication.

The shooting of Wallace comes a week after an officer in Waukean, north of Chicago, shot dead 19-year-old Black man Marcellis Stinnette when the officer opened fire on his vehicle.

Stinnette's 20-year-old partner, Tafara Williams, was also wounded.

"When does it end America?" asked civil rights lawyer Ben Crump at a press conference Tuesday.

"How many more Black people have to be killed because of police brutality, excessive force, bias, systematic racism, deliberate indifference?"

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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