[11/03/20] – Shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. Leads to Unrest in Philadelphia and Renewed Calls for Racial Justice

On Monday, October 26th, Walter Wallace Jr., 26-year-old Black man with mental illness, was shot and killed in Cobbs Creek, Philadelphia during a confrontation with police. Officers from the Philadelphia Police Department were responding to a report of a person with a weapon. The body camera footage, which is scheduled to be released to the public on Wednesday, November 4th, along with the names of the police officers involved, shows the events leading up to the shooting. The footage, according to the Wallace family attorney, shows Wallace emerging from a home with a knife in his hands while his family members shout to police officers about his mental illness. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5’s President John McNesby, also made a statement pertaining to the footage. According to McNesby, the police union’s review of both the audio and the footage shows that the officers involved retreated for “nearly 50 seconds” and ordered Wallace to drop his weapon, a knife, “more than 20 times,” before shooting. While McNesby claims that the police officers use of force was justified, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, is reported to have found the footage concerning amidst questions of the police officers use of force against person with mental illness in crisis. The Wallace family has stated that the police officers could have handled the situation differently or used less lethal options, such as a taser, to subdue Wallace. However, the police department does not issue out tasers to every officer and the two officers involved in Wallace’s shooting were not carrying them. The family, who believes that the city failed the police officers by not equipping and training them properly, is not calling for murder charges.


The shooting sparked days of unrest in Philadelphia where demonstrators took to the streets to demand racial justice. Instances of looting, property destruction, and arrests have been reported throughout the city as demonstrators clashed with police officers. According to CBS Philly, there have been 617 instances of looting and 225 arrests since Monday. It has also been reported that 17 police vehicles have been damaged and 57 police officers have been injured, with 1 currently in the hospital. In an effort to quell the violence and vandalism, the mayor of Philadelphia, James F. Kenney, issued an emergency order, which placed the city under curfew on Wednesday night, with a subsequent curfew taking place prior on Friday; coinciding with the arrival of the National Guard in the city. On Thursday, the city council approved a measure that “would bar the use of non-lethal crowd dispersal tactics, including the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray on those peacefully protesting.” The measure, which is being considered in the wake of Wallace’s shooting and on the eve of the election, is an effort to “preempt” the use of excessive force on future protests.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom.

The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.



  • Writing: Explain how the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. further illustrates the need for police reform in the United States.  
  • Debate: According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, at least 1 in 4 fatal law enforcement encounters involves an individual with serious mental illness. Do you believe that clinical response teams would be more effective in dealing with people in crisis than law enforcement officers?
  • Poll: Police departments should be required to issue tasers to all police officers within the department. (Agree or Disagree).
  • Short Answer: Explain the purpose of the city council’s measure. Do you think it will be effective and reducing the clashes between demonstrators and police officers?

Cover Image: ©iStockphoto.com/Bastiaan Slabbers

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