Officials in Philadelphia urged calm Wednesday as they released body-camera footage from last week of two police officers fatally shooting a Black man with a history of mental illness who was holding a knife. The police also announced new training measures intended to help officers respond to mental health crises.
The man, Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was fatally shot by officers Oct. 26 in an encounter that was also captured on video by a bystander and shared on social media.
In the bystander's video and in the police bodycam footage, Wallace is seen walking into the street in the direction of the officers, who back away and aim their guns at him. The officers yell repeatedly at Wallace to "put the knife down" and then fire multiple rounds. After Wallace falls to the ground, his mother screams and rushes to his body.
A lawyer for the family had said that Wallace was experiencing a crisis that day and that the family had told officers about it when they arrived at the scene.
In the bodycam footage, a woman can be heard repeatedly screaming that Wallace is "mental" as the officers point their guns at him.
The shooting touched off protests and looting in the city, which prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to call in the National Guard and the city to order a 9 p.m. curfew.
In the days that followed, more than 200 people were arrested, cars were burned and more than 50 officers were hurt, ratcheting up tensions in a nation that was already on edge before Election Day.
At a news conference Wednesday, Philadelphia's mayor, district attorney and police commissioner joined Black clergy members in expressing sadness over Wallace's death. They urged people not to resort to violence in response to the bodycam footage, as well as 911 calls and police radio transmissions that were released.
"We know this moment is incredibly painful, given so many failures over generations to protect all of Philadelphia's residents, especially those who are Black or brown," Mayor Jim Kenney said.
The "very painful" videos, he said, "will elicit anger, rage, distress, evoke more questions - and rightfully so."
Larry Krasner, the district attorney, called the shooting "a terrible tragedy" and said that it showed that officers had failed to properly respond to a mother in distress about her son's mental health crisis.
"Government failed because her son was killed within a minute of government's arrival," he said. "As a part of government, I apologise for that."
Still, Krasner said that if residents wanted to honor Wallace and respect his family's wishes, they should not "disgrace his memory by tearing up the city."
Mary Floyd Palmer, one of the clergy members who spoke at the news conference, said Wallace "should be here today." She said Philadelphians should show compassion and care in response to his death.
"God is watching," she said. "So are our children. What will they say about what you have done?"
On Wednesday, about 300 people gathered outside City Hall to protest the killing. They stood in front of a banner that read Count Every Vote, near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where city officials were tallying ballots in the presidential election.
As helicopters flew overhead, about two dozen National Guard troops stood alongside Philadelphia police officers.
City officials said the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office were continuing to investigate the shooting.
The officers were identified Wednesday as Sean Matarazzo, 25, who has been with the department since 2018, and Thomas Munz, 26, who has been on the force since 2017. The Police Department said both officers had been placed on "restrictive duty" while the investigation continues.
John McNesby, the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, the union that represents the city's officers, said it had been calling for the release of the video and the 911 calls since last Tuesday.
"Eight days later, city officials held an hourlong press conference casting blame on these officers for this incident in which they were forced to make a split-second decision," McNesby said. "This is baseless and not supported by facts."
He said the officers had followed their training and department policy.
"Mayor Kenney has called this 'police violence,'" McNesby said. "However, the real violence was perpetrated by a knife-wielding man who confronted our police officers."
City officials also said they were expanding programs intended to help the police defuse mental health crises without violence.
Next week, officials said, 911 call takers and dispatchers will be trained to better identify calls related to people in crisis so they can dispatch specially trained officers.
By January, specially trained officers will respond to such calls along with civilian mental health experts, officials said.
"We firmly believe that mental illness, disabilities and substance use disorders are not crimes," said Jill Bowen, acting commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. "Individuals affected by these challenges have the right to treatment, recovery, wellness and life."