Around 40 people gathered outside Philadelphia City Hall Friday night to protest a fatal Pennsylvania State Police shooting in the Poconos in late December of an armed 19-year-old said to be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Christian Hall was shot seven times on Dec. 30 by State Police in Monroe County while standing on an overpass. It’s not clear why he was there, but the police say they responded to reports of a distraught man with a gun on a bridge.
Citing a video of the incident that has gone viral, Hall’s parents and their lawyer, nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, have said the young man had his hands up when police fired. Police say they shot after Hall became uncooperative and pointed a gun at them, according to local news reports.
“He was having a crisis. There is a suggestion that he was contemplating suicide. He was crying out for help,” Crump has told reporters. “Christian Hall needed a helping hand, but yet he got bullets while he had his hands up.”
Crump, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Travyon Martin, among other victims of high-profile police killings of Black Americans, is calling on Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate the case.
Friday night’s demonstration at Dilworth Park was organized by local activists, including Veronica Carden, who helps run Club Sandwich, a local mutual aid society. Carden said Hall’s case is yet another example of police mishandling mentally ill people with fatal consequences.
Hall’s killing occurred two months after police shot 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr. in West Philadelphia. Wallace struggled with mental illness throughout his life and was in crisis at the time of his death. His family reportedly called 911 three times that day to request help for him.
“We were marching through the dilapidated asphalt streets of Philadelphia in the summer, in the blazing heat and sometimes pouring rain, and now we are readying to demonstrate again in frigid temperatures because nothing has changed,” Carden told the crowd. “Police have proven time and time again that they are not equipped to handle anything, especially delicate mental health emergencies.”
Carden also spoke about her own experience calling the police “out of desperation” for her mother, who suffers from untreated mental illness. She described her mother being handcuffed aggressively by officers while her wrists bled from self-inflicted wounds.
“I picture how much differently my mother’s life may have unfolded if mental health services were available when we begged for them and needed them,” she said. “My story of policy and police failure is unfortunately not unique.”
Along with justice for Hall and his family, protesters demanded that Philadelphia defund their police department, especially as the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 lobbies for a 5% “accountability bonus” for wearing body cameras in next year’s city budget.
Activist Samantha Rise shouted through two masks into a megaphone, “There is no future without police abolition.”
Rise then helped lead protesters down 15th Street and then east on Race Street to Police Headquarters between Seventh and Eighth Streets.
“Take a breath for Christian, who cannot breathe,” Rise said as impatient drivers honked as marchers stopped for a moment of silence to honor Hall.
Outside Police Headquarters, demonstrators stopped again, this time standing in silence for seven minutes with their hands up to symbolize the number of times Hall was shot.
“We need to do better for people in crisis,” said protester Margaret Hu.