Philadelphia goes under curfew after unrest over police killing of black man

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Philadelphia officials introduced a city deck after dark curfew Wednesday, trying to ward off a third night of violence amid protests over the fatal police shooting of a black man with a knife and described by the family as a nervous breakdown.

The streets of Pennsylvania’s largest city have been tense since Walter Wallace, 27, was shot down Monday by two police officers who responded to what his relatives say was a call for help in a mental health crisis.

His death sparked two nights of looting and periodic clashes between police in riots and protesters dismissing the shooting as the latest instance of racist biased police work in a U.S. criminal justice system that often exposes African Americans to deadly force.

Calm prevailed when a curfew from 21 to 18 ordered by Mayor Jim Kenney went into effect about three hours after sunset Wednesday.

A protest rally scheduled for earlier in the evening was postponed and then canceled after fewer than a dozen people showed up. Four people were later detained for curfew violations, but the arrests were uneventful.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said he mobilized state National Guard troops to help local law enforcement and emergency services until order was restored. The troops were expected to begin arriving Friday.

Police in Philadelphia made 172 arrests and 53 officers were wounded over two nights, beginning with peaceful demonstrations but leaving room for looting large box stores and other businesses, some of which still recovered from summer unrest.

City officials said as many as 1,000 people were involved in looting in a corner of the city on Tuesday night, catching police off guard.

“These individuals are doing nothing but wasting our precious resources,” Philadelphia Police Chief Danielle Outlaw told a news conference Wednesday, condemning what she called “widespread lawlessness.”

The unrest turned Philadelphia into the latest hotspot during the race’s Justice Days ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election. It covers months of protests ignited by George Floyds, a black man in handcuffs, who died on May 25 when he was pinned to the street under a white Minneapolis police officer.

Campaign tones

US President Donald Trump, who is seeking a second term, has made support for the police a top campaign issue and calls for a tough “law-and-order” position against protests. In Nevada on Wednesday, Trump said the events in Philadelphia were “terrible” and offered to send federal aid.

On Tuesday, his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, lamented “another black life in America lost” and added, “We can not accept that a mental crisis in this country ends in death.”

Pennsylvania is a crucial battlefield in the election, but it remained to be seen how events in Philadelphia, a predominantly black and Spanish city and a democratic stronghold, could affect the outcome of the state vote.

Tuesday’s upheavals erupted despite prayers from the dead man’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., to “stop the violence” out of respect for his son and family. He also called for justice in a case that is still being investigated.

A spectator’s video footage of the fatal confrontation posted on social media showed Wallace towards two police officers who drew their weapons after ordering him to drop the knife. The camera cuts away briefly as shots pop out and Wallace collapses.

Police have said the two officers fired about 14 shots together.

An older cousin of Wallace, Roosevelt Brant III, a family pastor, told Reuters relatives had called the authorities for help in dealing with an episode of mental distress, “and police showed up.”

A lawyer for the family told reporters that Wallace was suffering from a bipolar disorder and his wife communicated his condition to the officers who encountered Wallace before shooting him.

“I asked the police to stop. ‘Do not shoot my son, do not shoot my son,’ ‘said his mother, Catharine Wallace. “They meant nothing to me and shot my son.”

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, police had been called to the Wallace household dozens of times in recent months. Public court documents show he had a long criminal record, including at least one prison sentence for a conviction, and was awaiting trial in a criminal case.

Outlaw said the city would release body camera footage from police and emergency call 911 call records related to the shooting after the Wallace family had a chance to review them.

She refused to account for all 911 calls made by the family, citing the active investigation.

“I think it’s safe to say that once officers were on the scene, people said there may have been mental issues there, but that’s what the investigation will reveal.”

(REUTERS)