On Tuesday morning, Pam Africa was on 52nd Street volunteering with Food Not Bombs, a mutual aid organization that set up a table on the sidewalk to serve meals to the public. Africa said she lives on the same block as the Wallace family and witnessed Walter Wallace Jr.’s mother interacting with officers before police fatally shot him on Monday afternoon.
“Between 1:30 and 2, I go to my door and I happen to look out, the block is full of cops. And my neighbor is talking to the cops,” Africa, a member of MOVE, said. “I went back into the house and it couldn’t have been no more than 10 minutes, I came back. All the cops was gone. But she spent a long time talking to them telling them about her son…”
Wallace’s father has said his son struggled with mental health issues and was on medication.
Africa’s block, where police shot and killed Wallace, is only only one-third of a mile away from the MOVE compound, located at 62nd Street and Osage Avenue. In 1985, the MOVE compound was infamously bombed by police, killing 11 Black people, including five children. The bombing, which scarred a community and neighborhood, has become a flashpoint in local and national protests against racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police earlier this year.
Black Philly Radical Collective, a group organizing recent protests, has asked the city to remove “symbols of state violence” — including a street sign dedicated to Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s mayor during the MOVE bombing. Earlier this year, in honor of the bombing’s 35 anniversary, many civic leaders called on the city to apologize for the MOVE bombing to heal some of the generational wounds inflicted by police on West Philadelphia’s large Black community. To date, the mayor and City Council President Darrell Clarke have not done so.
Africa said she left her house with her daughter, but heard about the shooting by the time she came back around 4:30 p.m. Africa’s daughter found the video on Facebook and told her mother somebody was shot on her block. “I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t know that it was a police shooting. When she explained that to me I said, ‘Oh my god, I hope it’s not my neighbor.’ And lo and behold it was,” Africa said.
Africa is outraged that police did not deescalate the situation given their prior interactions with Wallace’s mother.
“I’m looking at my neighbor. And her standing between the police and her son and begging them not to shoot her son.” Africa said. “They should have came back with a social worker. They should have came back with a minister from the police department. They should have came back with somebody who deals with mental issues.”