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National Guard Troops Mobilized After Unrest In Philadelphia

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Troops from the Pennsylvania National Guard were mobilized in Philadelphia for a second night. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets again last night after police shot and killed Walter Wallace, a 27-year-old Black man, on Monday. His family says they had called for an ambulance to help with a mental health crisis. Peter Crimmins reports from member station WHYY, and he is with us this morning.

Peter, thanks for being here.

PETER CRIMMINS, BYLINE: Sure thing, David.

GREENE: So tell us about what's unfolding in Philadelphia.

CRIMMINS: Well, Monday night was really a very spontaneous reaction by the neighborhood to the killing. Within hours of the shooting, hundreds of people moved into the street to vent their anger at the killing of yet another young Black man by police, and that escalated into violence and vandalism. Over 90 people were arrested. And about 30 police officers were injured, mostly by rocks and bricks that were thrown at them.

And then on Tuesday, the actions were more planned. There were marches and organized protests, and there was even a community dialogue with the city's chief of police to try to come - the residents to come to terms with police. But ultimately, that fell into chaos. Protesters clashed with riot police late into the night. And in a different neighborhood on the other side of town, there was widespread looting at a shopping center.

GREENE: Well, can you tell us about Walter Wallace Jr., give us a sense of this man?

CRIMMINS: He was 27 years old, married, father of eight children with another on the way. He made his living driving Uber and an aspiring rapper, and he was also diagnosed with a bipolar condition. He was prescribed lithium, and he had more than his fair share of run-ins with the law for aggressive behavior, most recently in March, for making threats. And he had been, in the past, sentenced to some court-ordered mental health treatments. But when he was on his meds, apparently, he was a really mellow guy. People say he was calm, a nice guy, a family guy.

GREENE: Well, his family is speaking out. They spoke out publicly last night. What are they saying?

CRIMMINS: Well, for starters, they added a little more detail as to what just happened. Wallace was having a psychological episode on Monday. His mother was with him, trying to calm him down. But ultimately, she had to call an ambulance. This is according to the family's lawyer. And what happened was the police arrived first, before the ambulance. And the family said what could have been de-escalated by a paramedic was instead met with lethal force by police. And for the most part, the family was very emotional last night, in particular Wallace's father, Walter Sr. He pleaded with the neighbors to stay calm.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALTER WALLACE SR: That's all I'm sending out is a SOS to help, not to hurt and cause no chaos - violence, looting, fire - all these things because I wasn't brought up like that. And I worked 33 years with the city, with the Streets Department picking up trash to try to keep the city clean.

GREENE: So what are police saying about - at this point about why officers responded the way they did? I mean, do we have footage from their body cameras to see what happened?

CRIMMINS: Well, an investigation is underway. That should shed some light on why the officers responded the way they did. At this point, it's too early to say. There was body camera footage. But so far, it has not been released.

GREENE: So what happens next? How are authorities responding to this?

CRIMMINS: Well, the district attorney, Larry Krasner, said he's personally involving himself with the case. But, you know, all summer long, protesters with the Black Lives Matter movement have been demanding to defund the police because they say many situations may be better handled by social service workers or mental health experts rather than officers with guns. And this situation really seems to illustrate that in the most tragic terms.

GREENE: Peter Crimmins reports for WHYY in Philadelphia.

Peter, thank you.

CRIMMINS: Sure thing, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.