Earlier this week, Walter Wallace, Jr., a 27 year old Black man from West Philadelphia, was having a mental health crisis when he was fatally shot multiple times in front of his family and neighbors by two police officers. Mr. Wallace was a father, husband, son, and friend. He was beloved. We send our deepest condolences to Mr. Wallace’s loved ones, to his immediate community, and to the city that continues to mourn citizens lost to violence.
By now, many have seen the horrific footage of Mr. Wallace’s final moments on Earth. This footage is many things--haunting, traumatizing, disgraceful, outrageous. While the video shines a glaring light on the violent interactions that happen too frequently involving police, its circulation is its own form of violence that is often retraumatizing to victims. We also recognize that many in our community may be feeling their own wounds reopening as they grapple with yet another victim to the cycle of violence. For too many, Mr. Wallace’s death is a painful reminder of their own loss and unimaginable pain as a result of homicide. We mourn with all who have been impacted by this tragedy.
But there is one thing the footage is not: surprising. In fact, Black men experiencing mental health crises are most likely to be killed in police encounters. The lethal force used by those sent to help a person in crisis illuminates the fractures in our systems of support, where it is increasingly difficult for families to identify how to care for their most vulnerable in moments of crises. Mr. Wallace’s death was avoidable. The city needs to come together to create a more equitable and accessible mental healthcare system, one that affirms that Black lives and minds matter.
We recognize that what we are currently experiencing is longstanding, deep-seated and systemic. It is not enough to stand in solidarity with the Black community -- we must take action to deconstruct systems of injustices everywhere. We demand that our city services be held to higher standards of crisis management and peaceful conflict resolution.
As an organization whose mission is to end the cycle of violence in Philadelphia, AVP has a responsibility to be a part of the change. We restate our commitment to doing our mission-driven work within our community and with our partners. We will continue to serve victims and co-victims of violence with trauma-informed practices that foster healing and advocacy. We will also continue to serve those committed to fighting social injustices by providing free short-term trauma therapy to any Philadelphian who has experienced trauma or violence at protests, has trauma symptoms as a result of protests in any way, and/or has been victimized by violence, including experiences of police brutality. We will continue to work with our partners to drive the policy and institutional changes that are necessary to eliminate the imbalances, biases and discriminatory practices embedded in our current systems.
Because Walter Wallace, Jr. should be alive.
Because Black lives still matter.
Because Black disabled lives matter, too.