Last night Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., an African American man with known mental illness who was holding a knife. This happened despite Mr. Wallace’s mother and neighbors trying to tell the police that he was mentally ill, that they knew him and that he would drop the knife. This was an utterly outrageous abuse of power for which there can be no excuse whatsoever. This was an utterly outrageous abuse of power by a police department that failed this past summer to restrain its officers from unnecessary use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and which has failed repeatedly over many years to develop implement and enforce policies that would recognize mental illness as a condition from which people suffer, and not as a crime for which they should be restrained, jailed, and in cases like this, shot.
There is no possible excuse for this action. Walter Wallace Jr. was a Black man with a known condition that put him doubly at risk. Where was the training for police in mental health? Where was the DHS Mobile Crisis Team that is supposed to coordinate and partner with the police department? Here is newspaper coverage of this team: https://www.inquirer.com/health/mental-health-mobile-crisis-units-philadelphia-20200813.html Where were they? Where was the supervision on use of deadly force?
We call on the Philadelphia Police Department to suspend the officers now, today, and to investigate the death of Walter Wallace Jr. immediately and thoroughly including taking the word of the people who were on the scene seriously. We call on the Police Department to include in their investigation what we in health care call a root cause analysis: what happened on the scene but also what policies, practices or customs of the Police Department contributed to this terrible tragedy. Were policies followed? If not, why not. Nothing like this ever occurs in isolation.
We also call on the District Attorney not to wait for a lengthy police investigation but to move immediately to investigate and charge the police officers involved.
To the neighbors and friends of Walter Wallace Jr. and his family, we share your grief and outrage. To all the mothers and fathers who fear for their Black sons at the hands of the Philadelphia Police Department, we share your grief and outrage. To the many people living with serious mental illness in Philadelphia, especially people of color, who have a right to expect that the institutions of government will not kill or injure them when they have a crisis, we share your fear, we share your outrage, we share your grief, and we pledge to do what we can to assure that decent and compassionate treatment is available to people with mental illness, rather than terror and death.
For our patients at this terrible time: Philadelphia FIGHT’s clinicians, our therapists, our case managers and our counselors are always available to you. We are available in person or through Telehealth. Please give us a call if we can help.