(Photo © Brian M. VILLA, used by permission)
Yesterday, Walter Wallace Jr. was shot and killed by police in West Philly. He was brandishing a knife and, according to reports, had a history of mental health issues and was on medication.
Wallace’s mother had called the police in an effort to defuse the situation, his father told The Philadelphia Inquirer. But despite the fact that the City has a new initiative to flag 911 calls that involve a behavioral health crisis, in the end, the 27-year-old was shot multiple times by the cops.
This is sickeningly familiar territory. In early September, Daniel Prude was killed by police in Rochester, NY, after Prude suffered a mental health crisis and his brother called the police for help.
At that time, Joe Pyle, the president of the Scattergood Foundation, wrote a column for us about how Prude’s killing was a wake-up call about how the criminalization of mental illness intersects with the criminalization of Black men in policing, and how the sequential intercept model could have saved Prude’s life.
But as guest columnist Stephen Underhill reminded us July, police brutality has a long history of being protected and reinforced — even without the mental health component that were part of the Prude and Wallace killings.
Since the uprising of May and June, we’ve been reminded again and again how pervasive systemic racism is, and how it finds expression in law enforcement and our criminal justice system. In Philadelphia, our nonprofit leaders have spoken about ways the sector must respond in the short term and long term.
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One particularly salient thought when comparing 2020 to the tumultuous 1960s, from Diversified Community Services’ Otis Bullock Jr.: “I don’t want to hand my own two Black sons a worse situation that was given to me; trying to clean up and put back together what we destroyed 50 years from now.”
And while there is urgency for actionable change in the immediate aftermath of police killings like Wallace’s, there is also the reminder that the work of addressing and changing any system that so regularly fails its citizens, is longer term, and all-encompassing.-30-
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