Philadelphia sets citywide curfew as anger boils over police killing of black man

Philadelphia sets citywide curfew as anger boils over police killing of black man

Philadelphia Police Shooting
A person is handcuffed and detained by police on Oct 28, 2020, in Philadelphia, after a citywide curfew had passed, two days after Walter Wallace Jr was killed by police officers. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

PHILADELPHIA: Philadelphia officials imposed a citywide after-dark curfew on Wednesday (Oct 28), seeking to avert a third night of violence amid protests over the latest police killing of a black man described by family as undergoing a nervous breakdown.

The streets have been tense since Walter Wallace, 27, was gunned down on Monday by two police officers responding to what his relatives say was a call for assistance with a mental health crisis.

His death set off two nights of looting and periodic skirmishes between police in riot gear and protesters decrying the shooting as the latest instance of racially biased policing in a US criminal justice system that often subjects African Americans to lethal force.

Calm prevailed after a 9pm to 6pm curfew ordered by Mayor Jim Kenney took effect on Wednesday.

A protest rally planned for earlier in the evening was postponed, then called off, after fewer than a dozen people turned out. Four individuals were later detained for curfew violations, but the arrests were uneventful.

Demonstrators gather in protest near the location where Walter Wallace, Jr. was killed by two police
Demonstrators gather in protest near the location where Walter Wallace Jr was killed by two police officers on Oct 27, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: AFP/Mark Makela)

NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS TO ARRIVE FRIDAY

Philadelphia is the biggest city in the state of Pennsylvania, which is viewed as key to winning Tuesday's presidential vote.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said he mobilised state National Guard troops to assist local law enforcement and emergency responders until order was firmly restored. The troops were expected to begin arriving on Friday.

Philadelphia police have made 172 arrests, and 53 officers were injured over two nights that began with peaceful demonstrations but gave way to looting of big-box stores and other businesses, some of them still recovering from unrest in the summer.

City officials said as many as 1,000 people were involved in looting in one corner of the city on Tuesday night, catching police off guard.

"These individuals are doing nothing but simply wasting our precious resources," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw told a news conference on Wednesday, condemning what she called "widespread lawlessness".

Outlaw has launched an investigation into the shooting. The officers involved have not been identified.

Demonstrators clash with riot police during a rally after the death of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a rally after the death of Walter Wallace Jr, a black man who was shot by police in Philadelphia, on Oct 27, 2020. (Photo:: Reuters/Bastiaan Slabbers)

CAMPAIGN OVERTONES

The turmoil turned Philadelphia into the latest flashpoint over racial justice days ahead of Tuesday's presidential election.

It caps months of protests ignited by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man in handcuffs, as he was pinned by his neck to the street under the knee of a white Minneapolis policeman.

Kenney suggested other curfews may follow, telling reporters that decisions will be made daily on whether to implement one that night.

"I believe that as a certain percentage of people who abide by the curfew we'll have less people on the street to deal with, which makes the job, and the safety of the officers better," said Kenney.

US President Donald Trump, seeking a second term in office, has made support for police a top campaign issue, calling for a tough "law-and-order" stance toward protests.

In Nevada on Wednesday, Trump said the events in Philadelphia were "terrible" and offered to send federal help.

On Tuesday, his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, lamented "another black life in America lost", adding, "We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death."

Pennsylvania is a crucial battleground in the election, but it remained to be seen how events in Philadelphia, a predominantly black and hispanic city and a Democratic stronghold, might affect the outcome of the vote in the state.

Philadelphia Police Shooting
A person is handcuffed and detained by police in Philadelphia on Oct 28, 2020 after the citywide curfew had passed, two days after Walter Wallace Jr was killed by police officers. (Tom Gralish/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

"STOP THE VIOLENCE": WALTER WALLACE'S FATHER

Tuesday's upheavals erupted despite pleas from the dead man's father, Walter Wallace Sr, to "stop the violence" out of respect for his son and family. He also called for justice in a case that remained under investigation.

An onlooker's video footage of the fatal confrontation posted on social media showed Wallace approaching two police officers who drew their guns after ordering him to drop the knife. The camera cuts away briefly as gunfire erupts and Wallace collapses.

Police have said the two officers fired about 14 shots combined.

An elder cousin of Wallace, Roosevelt Brant III, a family pastor, told Reuters that relatives had called the authorities for help in dealing with an episode of mental distress, "and the police showed up".

A lawyer for the family said the call to the emergency services was for an ambulance, not police.

The lawyer also told reporters that Wallace suffered from a bipolar disorder, and his wife communicated his condition to the officers who encountered Wallace before they shot him.

"I was telling police to stop. 'Don't shoot my son, please don't shoot my son,'" his mother, Catharine Wallace recounted. "They paid me no mind, and shot my son."

His family said he suffered from mental health problems and was on medication. Wallace's father asked why officers did not taser him instead.

Police said they responded to a call about a domestic disturbance.

Philadelphia Police Shooting
A police officer goes down attempting to tackle a demonstrator during protests on Oct 27, 2020, in Philadelphia, the day after Walter Wallace Jr, a black man, was fatally shot by Philadelphia police. (Joe Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP)

POLICE VISITED WALLACE HOUSEHOLD MULTIPLE TIMES

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, police had been called to the Wallace household dozens of times in recent months. Public court documents show he had a lengthy criminal record, including at least one prison sentence for a felony conviction, and was awaiting trial in a criminal threat case.

Outlaw said the city would release body-camera footage from the police and the emergency-911 call records related to the shooting after the Wallace family had a chance to review them.

She declined to detail any 911 calls made by the family, citing the active investigation.

"I think it's safe to say that once officers were on the scene people were saying that there may have been mental issues there but that's what the investigation will reveal." 

Source: AFP/Reuters/ec/ic

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