In the evening of Monday, October 26, 2020, 27-year-old Walter Wallace, an African-American man and father, was shot and killed by police in the street in front of his home. Mr. Wallace had for years struggled with his mental health, a fact known to the police as they had been to the Wallace home three times on Monday.
Mr. Wallace’s family members, who witnessed the horrific shooting scene, have stated they had called 911 for an ambulance to get him help with a mental health crisis, not for police intervention. Rather than sending an emergency responder who could work to de-escalate the situation and safely transport Mr. Wallace for mental health treatment, the police responded, with tragic consequences.
The violent police response to Mr. Wallace’s crisis could have been avoided had the City of Philadelphia taken steps to reform its emergency response system. In several jurisdictions from Eugene, Oregon to Denver, Colorado to New York City, communities have developed, or are in the process of developing, non-police emergency response systems so as to avoid violent or coercive outcomes. Development and implementation of such a new emergency response system should be an immediate priority.
Additionally, and in parallel with the development of alternative emergency response systems, communities also need to plan for and develop a network of robust community services to help prevent similar crises from developing.
People with disabilities, particularly people of color with disabilities, are vastly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, with dozens of similarly tragic and avoidable police shootings of people with disabilities occurring in the last few months alone. In addition to holding police officers and political leadership accountable, long-term solutions for avoiding violent episodes like this one are to develop effective non-police emergency response systems while building up a robust system of community services to prevent the kind of violence that took Mr. Wallace’s life.