Oct 26, 2021 - News

Philly moves to equip officers with Tasers year after Wallace's killing

A demonstrator holding placard during a protest near the location where Walter Wallace Jr. was killed by two police officers on Oct. 26, 2020. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest near where Walter Wallace Jr. was killed by two officers. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

One year after the fatal Philadelphia police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., the city moved to equip and train all patrol officers with Tasers.

Of note: The effort will cost $14 million, but the funds were already approved in the city budget earlier this year.

  • "It is our belief, and the sincere hope of the Wallace family that these measures will save lives," Shaka Johnson and Kevin O'Brien, attorneys for the Wallace family, said in a statement to Axios.

Flashback: On Oct. 26, 2020, Wallace was in a mental health crisis when his sister called 911 asking for a medic. Instead, police officers arrived at his home.

  • Wallace, holding a knife, walked toward the officers, while his mother tried to deescalate the situation.
  • Officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz opened fire less than a minute later, killing the 27-year-old in a shooting captured on video by a bystander and police body cameras.

The big picture: The incident sparked days of protests against police brutality. And soon after, the Wallace family blamed the officers' lack of nonlethal options as a contributing factor to his death, among other systemic issues.

  • The police department pledged for mental health reforms, but the process has been slow.

Between the lines: People with mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center's 2015 study.

What they're saying: Activists told Axios they hadn't seen meaningful change in the aftermath of Wallace's death.

  • "So many people came out in support for days and weeks, and that remains a lesson of collective struggle and how important it is to stand up," Krystal Strong, a University of Pennsylvania professor and Black Lives Matter Philadelphia organizer, told Axios.
  • But Strong said she doesn't believe there's been "any real meaningful changes that will prevent another murder of someone like Walter Wallace, Jr."

YahNé Ndgo, an activist who has helped organize protests with the Wallace family, wasn't impressed with the latest reform, which the U.S. Department of Justice recommended back in 2015.

  • "This isn't a solution. This is smoke and mirrors," she said of the Tasers, calling the effort "just a raise for police."

For the record: Ndgo considers Wallace's death avoidable.

  • "An unexpected tragedy is one thing … but an unexpected violent tragedy at the hands of the system that he turned to and was forced to depend on for care and protection is another thing altogether," Ndgo said.
  • The solution, according to both Ndgo and Strong, is more community-driven organizations that prioritize deescalation.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement to Axios that Wallace's killing, "along with last year's protests, underscored the urgency of many important reforms, such as mental health training and crisis response resources."

  • The Philadelphia Police Department didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Of note: The city launched a pilot program earlier this year establishing four co-responder teams, which serve as first responders for individuals in crisis. They're made up of crisis-trained officers and mental health professionals.

What's next: A vigil for Wallace will be held Wednesday at 5pm at 6511 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia.


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