The Justified Shooting of Walter Wallace Jr.

Come at the cops with a knife, everyone knows what happens next

protest philadelphia
Getty Images

The city of Philadelphia is enduring another wave of rioting and looting, as roving mobs hurling rocks, bricks, and trash cans have injured 30 police officers. The National Guard has been mobilized to quell the lawlessness.

This anarchy was not caused by the police shooting of an innocent, though the gaslighting to that effect is already well underway. Rather, the trigger for this latest orgy of destruction was the justifiable homicide of a deranged man wielding a knife as he charged two officers of the law.

The police were in an impossible situation of the sort we regularly ask first responders to confront: a mentally ill man, already visited by police twice that day after family members rang 911 to report domestic violence, putting the officers in immediate danger and reasonable fear for their lives. And yet, according to the critics—who, it is worth noting, do not stand on the thin blue line—those same officers should have simply defused the situation.

Some, like CNN's Wolf Blitzer, said the cops should have shot Walter Wallace Jr. in the leg, a protocol blessed by Joe Biden but that actual experts agree is ill-advised and insufficient to quell an imminent threat. Others simply demanded that horrible situations like this one never occur: "We cannot accept that in this country a mental health crisis ends in death," said the Biden-Harris campaign in a statement.

We disagree, as should any decent citizen who expects law enforcement officers to leave their families every day knowing that they might not come back. That job, however, mandates only that they accept the risk of death, not that they forfeit the right to defend their lives.

Was Wallace in the throes of a mental health crisis? Video of the shooting leaves little doubt. Only a deranged person would charge, knife in hand, at two gun-wielding police officers yelling at him to drop his weapon. Sane people know what the outcome of such an attack will be: an entirely inevitable and justifiable hail of bullets.

But mental illness is not a defense for violence. It does not excuse killing police, or beating spouses, or any of the crimes for which presumably mentally ill individuals like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein are rightly condemned. Mental illness may mitigate the sentence for a crime, but this was an exercise in the right to self-defense, not due process.

Though politicians and the media won't admit it, many police shootings look a lot like this one. According to the Washington Post, about 25 percent of those shot and killed by the police since 2015 showed signs of mental illness, while 94 percent were armed.

That any citizen of Philadelphia would use Wallace's death as an excuse for rioting and looting is a disgrace, and those who do should be dealt with as harshly as the law allows.

What the law cannot do is hold accountable those who aid and abet the mob by indulging the idea that there was something unjust about the manner of Wallace's death. That too is a manifestation of mental illness and what we cannot accept is that it should lead to the death of a single police officer.