On Oct. 26, police unloaded at least 14 rounds on Walter Wallace Jr. while his mother begged in anguish for them not to shoot. This was caught on camera — on cell phone video that went viral after the shooting, and on body-cam footage the Philadelphia police released over a week later, on Wednesday night. That horrifying footage shows, yet again, why Wallace’s death spurred an immediate call to action to confront a culture that continues to allow the state-sanctioned murder of Black people.
All this followed the summer uprisings, precipitated by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. The city joined nationwide protests, and some looting ensued. Philadelphia has long been reeling from the teargassing of assembled protesters on I-95 and along 52nd Street in West Philadelphia. Walter Wallace Jr. was 27 years old and experiencing a mental health emergency.
West Philadelphia, still with tender wounds from the summer, has been retraumatized by this killing. I’m a lifelong West Philly resident, and the shooting happened on my 37th birthday. Our community will have to begin another healing process. The city at large needs to galvanize to finally abolish the police.
The expected rhetoric followed Wallace’s death, with some highlighting his criminal record, saying the cops were doing their job, and dismissing the already denied humanity of a Black person. This isn’t new — this is how a white supremacist culture reacts to violence enacted on Black bodies. Nothing about this is coincidental nor a mistake, especially not in the context of the overcriminalization of our communities in Philadelphia and nationwide. There isn’t any reform that can confront how brutal this system is at the root. Despite body cams and independent investigations, progressive district attorneys, and recurrent, as of yet unheeded demands to defund the police, the culture of policing continues to harm the most vulnerable among us.
Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, in an effort to provide the police with nonlethal weapons, committed last week to immediately transferring up to $9.5 million for their purchase — as Black organizers continue pressing the city to take money away from the police budget. It is reductive and problematic to believe the answer to curtailing police violence is pouring more money into its organization. Walter Wallace Jr. isn’t dead because a Taser wasn’t available. Shooting someone 10-plus times is a decision to end a life. Continuing to fund police and ignoring community demands is angering communities who are stripped of resources and pushed out from neighborhoods that don’t need cops to have Tasers. They need and deserve care and concern that doesn’t criminalize them.
This is why I adamantly decry the continued investment into any measure that suggests “shifts” to a system that doesn’t act accountable to Black communities. Abolition — ending policing without equivocation — is the only response that makes sense. Anything short of moving to completely disarm and disband the police doesn’t align with the refrain that Black Lives Matter. Last week’s shooting is another addition to our unending proof: The police state doles out an absolute end to Black futures, often leading to the death of Black people or their lifelong criminalization. Abolition, however, would secure Black futures.
In a city with deep poverty and displacement, which is happening right now amid a pandemic inflicting the most loss and economic devastation on Black and Latinx communities, the impact of police violence increases with community vulnerability. The need to press upon ourselves and each other a different way couldn’t be more evident. I will continue to push for the demands to defund and abolish the police because our lives depend on this racist system being dismantled. Otherwise, our birthdays will be constant reminders of how easily Black lives can be stolen away.