Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris issued a statement Tuesday expressing their heartbreak over the death of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man who was shot dead by Philadelphia police.
Biden and Harris called for “real police reform” in the aftermath of “another Black life in America lost” and acknowledged the suffering borne by a “community that has already endured so much trauma.”
They also criticized the violence that’s been reported — including attacks on police and the vandalism of local businesses — amid the protests sparked by Wallace’s death.
Wallace, 27, was killed by police on Monday afternoon. Footage of the fatal encounter shared on social media shows Wallace walking toward two police officers as a woman ― identified by The Washington Post as his mother ― attempts to hold him back.
Police said Wallace had been holding a knife at the time, and the officers can be heard in the video shouting at the man to put the weapon down. Moments later, as the camera points down to the ground, multiple shots can be heard.
Shaka Johnson, a lawyer representing Wallace’s family, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Wallace’s family had called 911 to help with what they described as a mental health crisis.
Johnson said the family had hoped for an ambulance and not police, but when two officers arrived at the scene, Wallace’s pregnant wife told them that her husband had bipolar disorder and was in crisis.
“That was an unjustified shooting,” the attorney said. “We have a person who has mental health issues, we’re going to vet those out as the process continues. But we have officers who I think are not properly trained to deal with those mental health issues.”
Wallace’s family has questioned why a stun gun wasn’t used on the man to defuse the situation. The Philadelphia district attorney’s office said Tuesday that an investigation had begun.
Protests have erupted on Philadelphia’s streets in the aftermath of Wallace’s shooting. Videos posted on social media have shown police clashing with protesters.
More than 90 people have since been arrested in connection with the unrest, NBC Philadelphia reported. Police said at least 30 officers were injured, some from thrown bricks and rocks, and several businesses had been burglarized or vandalized.
Biden and Harris said in their statement that “our hearts are broken for the family of Walter Wallace Jr., and for all those suffering the emotional weight of learning about another Black life in America lost.”
“We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death. It makes the shock and grief and violence of yesterday’s shooting that much more painful, especially for a community that has already endured so much trauma,” the statement said. “Walter Wallace’s life, like too many others’, was a Black life that mattered — to his mother, to his family, to his community, to all of us.”
The pair then urged that all violence cease.
“[N]o amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence. Attacking police officers and vandalizing small businesses, which are already struggling during a pandemic, does not bend the moral arc of the universe closer to justice,” the statement said. “Looting is not a protest, it is a crime. It draws attention away from the real tragedy of a life cut short.”
Biden and Harris called for police reform, which they said should include the implementation of a “national use of force standard.”
“That must be our American mission. That is how we deliver real justice,” they said, before taking a dig at their political rival. “All Donald Trump does is fan the flames of division in our society. He is incapable of doing the real work to bring people together. We will.”