Churches, Civil Rights Groups, Activists, Say Justice is at the Polls
by Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden campaign in key states in final days of the 2020 presidential race, yet another Black man was shot and killed by police Monday afternoon, Oct. 26.
The Philadelphia police shooting of 27-year-old Walter Wallace Jr., a reportedly mentally ill man holding a knife as his mother tried to calm him down when the police arrived on the scene, is the latest in a string of police killings of Black people that had already risen as a major campaign issue. The family had reportedly called emergency for an ambulance for Wallace – not police.
In a video taken by a stander, Wallace appears to be agitatedly walking around and then toward two police officers who were screaming, “Put the knife down!” Wallace walked toward the police; then collapsed in a hail of bullets.
A woman can be heard wailing with shock and grief. A man can be heard saying, “They just killed him in front of me…Y’all ain’t have to give him that many shots.”
Protests broke out immediately as citizens ran toward the dying man and the police in shock and anger.
Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., in a CNN interview, pleaded for the violence to stop, saying “It will leave a bad scar on my son with all this looting and chaos…This is where we live, and it’s the only community resource we have, and if we take all the resource and burn it down, we don’t have anything.”
Local TV stations showed both looters and protesters in the streets daily. The Pennsylvania National Guard was called in by Gov. Tom Wolf as police continued to clash with protestors. Mayor Jim Kenney has promised a full investigation.
“I have watched the video of this tragic incident,” Kenney said in a statement. “And it presents difficult questions that must be answered.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said there would be a release of more information in a few days. Outlaw said the officers who killed Wallace were not carrying stun guns. They have not explained why the police did not try to restrain the mentally ill man in another way.
Repeated police killings of Black people have already been a strong issue in the presidential campaign. The most recent controversial killings have been of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., Breanna Taylor in Louisville, Ken., and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
“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,” said a statement issued by Biden and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. “We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death. 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. Walter Wallace’s life, like too many others’, was a Black life that mattered — to his mother, to his family, to his community, to all of us.”
Biden and Harris also walked the fine line of scolding violent and unlawful protestors.
“At the same time, no amount of anger at the very real injustices in our society excuses violence. Attacking police officers and vandalizing small businesses, which are already struggling during a pandemic, does not bend the moral arc of the universe closer to justice. It hurts our fellow citizens,” they said. “Looting is not a protest; it is a crime. It draws attention away from the real tragedy of a life cut short. As a nation, we are strong enough to both meet the challenges of real police reform, including implementing a national use of force standard, and to maintain peace and security in our communities. That must be our American mission. That is how we will deliver real justice. All Donald Trump does is fan the flames of division in our society. He is incapable of doing the real work to bring people together.”
A Trump Administration statement issued by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany leaned to the comfort of the police and blamed Democrats for the chaotic reactions.
“The riots in Philadelphia are the most recent consequence of the Liberal Democrats’ war against the police,” the White House statement said. “Law enforcement is an incredibly dangerous occupation, and thousands of officers have given their lives in the line of duty. All lethal force incidents must be fully investigated. The facts must be followed wherever they lead to ensure fair and just results. In America, we resolve conflicts through the courts and the justice system. We can never allow mob rule. The Trump Administration stands proudly with law enforcement, and stands ready, upon request, to deploy any and all Federal resources to end these riots.”
Bishop William J. Barber II of the Poor People’s Movement was set to deliver a special message Nov 1, two days before the presidential election, as America faces yet another police shooting.
Bishop Michael Mitchell, president of the AME Council of Bishops, has led a campaign to urge at least 1.5 million of their members to vote early given the importance of the issues facing America.
Meanwhile, church organizations, civil rights groups and activists around the country have for months galvanized get out to vote efforts with a large focus on police reform because of the out of control police shootings, the Coronavirus pandemic, health care, economic justice and other issues of racial inequality.
Among those efforts, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church has sought to assure that at least 1.5 million of their members voted early.
Reaching out by social media, emailing, phone calling and home visiting – even while social distancing – Bishop Michael Mitchell of the 12th Episcopal District said the issues facing America warrant massive get out to vote efforts in the Black community.
“What has been happening on the streets in the lives of people is on the ballot. I’d say health care is on the ballot. We believe that our economy is on the ballot. And there are things that can mean the end of our growth and development if we don’t get it right,” said Mitchell, who also serves as the AME Church’s president of the Joint Council of Bishops. “I believe that our voice is at the ballot box. If we want to change things, it’s not by staying home. But rather it’s by showing up at the polls and letting our voice be heard. And so, I see people throughout America, just lining up just going and trying to make a difference and we’re just looking for a positive outcome. The church is not attempting to tell people who to vote for, but I believe if we show up at the polls, then you’ll know what to do. You’ll be able to make the right decision.”
Mitchell points out in a video news release that presidential candidates are only a part of this election. Members of the U. S. House and Senate as well as state and local politicians are also up for election and re-election.
Mitchell says that the AME Church is partnering with Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, among other groups. “So, we’re not out here by ourselves. We are partnering with other organizations because it’s going to take all of us.”
Barber was scheduled to deliver a sermon to the nation at historic Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University on Sunday, Nov. 1; titled “We Know What We Must Do & We Must Do It Now.” The online event is scheduled for 11 am EST at https://vote.poorpeoplescampaign.org/.
According to a release, Barber’s message would “provide a critical analysis of this moment just two days before election day. He will issue a clear and clarion call for action to get poor and low-income people who vote infrequently to cast their ballot.”
The release also said that Bishop Barber is “among more than 1,000 clergy members, religious scholars and other faith-based advocates who signed a unique statement supporting a comprehensive path to a ‘fair and free election’ and urging leaders to accept the ‘legitimate election results’ regardless of the winner in November.”