“Why don’t they put the barricades on your side in front of the police station,” grumbles a middle-aged man, pulling a joint. Standing on the covered porch of a somewhat shabby one-story house on Pine Street in west Philadelphia, he keeps photographers or protesters from climbing up to his “sanctuary,” as he calls this place. It is 9 pm and there are several hundred people standing in front of his house. Police in riot gear with helmets and shields block the road to stop the protesters from advancing to the police building on the other side of an intersection. “Fuck the police,” the protesters sing. And “No justice, no peace”. And always a name: “Walter Wallace!”
27-year-old mentally ill Walter Wallace Junior was shot dead by police in Philadelphia on Monday. The family had called the emergency number themselves and asked for an ambulance. When the police arrived, Wallace walked over to a group of police officers with a knife in hand. He was hit by 14 shots.
Hundreds of people protested Monday evening in the poorer western part of the city, which is largely inhabited by black Americans. During the night there was violence and looting and other people were injured.
It remained quiet until around nine o’clock on Tuesday evening. In the chic shopping streets in the center, shopkeepers use the time to quickly have their shop windows nailed.
After a while, the protesters on Pine Street give up going to the police station. The demonstration train turns around and returns to the metro station. More than half are white adolescents and young adults, one to two dozen are all dressed in black, with helmets, black face masks, and makeshift gas masks. A young man carries a sign.
The shards of broken glass and bus stops and cars from the night before are still in the street. Drones and helicopters circle above the group, the helicopter’s floodlights brush the people over and over again. A white man in black aims a laser pointer at the sky. A young woman takes a spray can from her pocket and writes on the boards that are boarding up a shop, “Walter Wallace Jr. RIP”, she sprays it. “Fuck the police,” a young man shouts to a group of policemen protecting a gas station. “They’re just doing their job,” an older black man shouts. He stumbles through the crowd against the tide. Laura, a young white woman with glued-on eyelashes and shimmering eyeshadow, leans against a wall and repeats over and over, “Why do my children have to grow up in such a world? That makes no sense. A young black man leans out the window of his pickup truck and shouts, “Get rid of your skin. This is our fight. “
Suddenly sirens sound around half past nine, as if dozens of police officers were running out of the side streets on bicycles. A scuffle breaks out between the steel girders of the elevated railway. Around the same time, police reported looting in other parts of the city and asked civilians in seven districts not to leave their homes.
I did not arrive in Philadelphia until late Monday evening to join Christoph von Marschall and our correspondent Juliane Schäuble. In the coming days, I will be reporting from Pennsylvania – a major swing state supplying 20 of the Electoral College’s 538 voters.
As I write this, around midnight US time, the situation in the city is still confusing, but the political exploitation of events has already begun. It is the third death of a black police officer this year that has attracted national attention and protests. Jacob Blake was shot dead in Kenosha in September and George Floyd died in Portland in May after a police officer knelt on his neck for minutes.
Donald Trump’s campaign team had seized the ensuing turmoil as an opportunity to play the topic of law and order. The president himself has not yet commented on the riots in Philadelphia. It is still unclear how long the protests will last. However, his son Donald Trump Junior retweeted several reports about the protests and Trump’s campaign team played online commercials with a tweet from the president in early October: “LAW & ORDER. VOTE! The ad was featured on the blog for the demonstration of the “Philadelphia Inquirer”.