It was the bloody start of a week that would put many of the year’s issues and demons on full display: a police shooting, racial inequality, the pandemic, the election, the mess with the mail, climate change. It felt like the nation, if not the world, was watching.
Wallace’s death launched peaceful protests Monday and Tuesday nights. It also ignited looting, property destruction and multiple arrests.
Pennsylvania, after controlling the pandemic for months, experienced a more than 50 percent spike in novel coronavirus cases during October’s final two weeks.
In the week before Election Day, Pennsylvania has been a tinderbox of voting anxiety. This is the first year of mail-in ballots allowed with no excuses. Every day brings reports branding the state as the probable source of election agita, delays and legal turmoil — this year’s Florida, without the chads.
To live in Philadelphia now is to be suddenly, fleetingly popular. The mail bloats with fat stacks of earnest entreaties, mass and handwritten. Cellphones blow up with texts. During the election’s frenzied final nine weeks, according to Kantar Media, $45.6 million is being spent on presidential political ads clotting regional airwaves.
Both campaigns appear hellbent on clinching the 20 electoral votes in this state, where Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was born and where he was long known as its “third senator.”
The candidates and their surrogates visit so incessantly that it comes as a surprise to see them campaigning elsewhere.
The president appears obsessed with Philadelphia, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 6 to 1 and high turnout is critical for a Biden victory. “A lot of strange things happening in Philadelphia,” President Trump said in Allentown on Monday. “We’re watching you, Philadelphia. We’re watching at the highest level.”
On Tuesday, the candidates offered views on Monday’s shooting and its aftermath as differing as their campaigns.
“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,” Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement. “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.”
Among the nation’s largest cities, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of people living in poverty — nearly a quarter of its roughly 1.6 million residents, like many living in Wallace’s neighborhood.
Trump called the shooting “a terrible event,” but he focused on the vandalism and local government, noting, “frankly, that the mayor or whoever it is that’s allowing people to riot and loot and not stop them is also just a horrible thing. . . . Again — a Democrat-run state, a Democrat-run city, Philadelphia.” (The governor and mayor are Democrats; the state legislature has a Republican majority.)
On Tuesday, standing on the street where Wallace was shot, his young son Zamir told the press: “White racist cops got my own dad. And Black lives still matter.”
Tuesday was the final day in Pennsylvania to request a mail-in ballot; at least 1.9 million have been returned so far. At Alain Locke School, transformed into one of the city’s satellite election offices, two miles from Wallace’s home, a line of more than 200 voters coiled around the parking lot.
That same day, election experts warned voters to avoid mailing ballots following months of issues with the U.S. Postal Service. In the Philadelphia Metro area during a mid-October week, only 76.9 percent of first-class mail was delivered on time.
In Malcolm X Park, a mile from Wallace’s home, Krystal Strong, a University of Pennsylvania professor and organizer of Black Lives Matter, told a crowd: “We’re watching the way how Walter Wallace Jr. is becoming a symbol,” she said, “and we’re losing sight of how this was a human being.”
Later, multiple stores were trashed in the West Philadelphia commercial hub of 52nd and Chestnut, as well as more than a dozen miles away in the Frankford neighborhood.
That night during the unrest, Rickia Young, 28, a home health-care aide, was pulled from her SUV by police and separated from her toddler for hours. Video of the incident went viral.
On Wednesday morning, a massive metal, anti-theft screen was erected across the front of a West Philadelphia Foot Locker. Said one of the workmen: “But there’s nothing left in there to take.” The McDonald’s across the intersection posted “BLM” below its looming arches, with only the drive-through open. Someone had spray-painted “Walter Wallace Presente!” on the franchise’s metal door.
Across the city, businesses were shuttered with sheets of plywood, a reprise of May 31, after the killing of George Floyd. The Apple store in Center City closed indefinitely, its plywood painted black. A Target on the city’s border posted a handwritten sign reading: “Due to Abundance of Caution, we will close.”
That same day, the U.S. Supreme Court, for the second time in nine days, rebuffed a Republican lawsuit and allowed the state to continue receiving ballots for up to three days after Election Day.
At the Locke satellite election office, Michael Glenn, 50, who is unemployed, learned it was too late to pick up a mail-in ballot. “Then I’ll show up at 6 a.m. to vote Election Day with my Eagles blanket and my Eagles chair.” Steve Latney, 59, a mental health worker, said: “I thought 2008 was the most important election of my life. Drop the mic, you know? Forget it. This is the most important election, by far, of my life.”
Long lines of cars and pedestrians spooled before Sayre Health Center, a few blocks from Wallace’s home, waiting for coronavirus tests.
On the corner of 61st and Locust streets, in front of the Almonte bodega, steps from Wallace’s home, 15 votive candles, a cluster of deflating balloons and 13 silk roses constituted a shrine in his memory. “You’re not alone. Black Lives Matter,” a sign read. “Philadelphia police Yall suck. Yall are fired!”
It was also the day Ashonna Winter Wallace, Wallace’s ninth child, was born.
That night, Mayor Jim Kenney (D) imposed a 9 p.m. curfew for the entire city. Looting occurred in neighboring Montgomery County.
Thursday brought incessant rain and flood watches, the aftermath of Hurricane Zeta in a season so drenched with major storms that those in charge of naming had resorted to the Greek alphabet. Police reported that more than 200 people had been arrested and more than 50 officers had been injured since Monday.
The Wallace family viewed police video of their son’s shooting. The family’s lawyer said his relatives would not press for murder charges against the police. A lawsuit is probable. Family and police agreed to release 911 calls and the officers’ body-camera footage the following Wednesday, after Election Day.
“Regardless of who, everybody deserves a life,” Walter Wallace Sr. said during a news conference.
“I wouldn’t wish this on no one’s child at all,” said his mother, Cathy Brant.
As of Friday, Philadelphia has had 411 homicides, a 42 percent increase over the same day the previous year.
There was no curfew, possibly because of the rain.
Friday morning, as requested by Gov. Tom Wolf (D), the National Guard arrived in full riot gear in Philadelphia. “Perhaps the most unprecedented time” in Philadelphia’s history, Kenney said. “There’s multiple crises going on at any given time.”
The 9 p.m. curfew was reinstated.
Saturday afternoon, hundreds of protesters gathered blocks from the Wallace home and peacefully marched through the streets of West Philadelphia to Malcolm X Park, yelling: “Say his name! Walter Wallace!” They were followed by a dozen police bike officers, a police helicopter swirling overhead.
“Put your fists up for Walter Wallace,” said activist YahNé Ndgo. “They shot that man in front of his mother.”
Wallace’s funeral is scheduled for Nov. 7.
Trump returned to Pennsylvania, holding rallies in four separate counties in seven hours, the first in suburban Bucks County. “You wait and very bad things can happen with ballots,” he said. “November 3rd is going to come and go, and we’re not going to know, and you’re going to have bedlam in our country.”
In the afternoon, a young group of activists placed a large silk-screen tribute to Wallace, his face and his initials, in the empty lot next to his family home.
The city lifted the curfew.
That night, a full moon hung in the October sky, the “Hunter’s moon.” It was also Halloween.