Crime beat

How Philadelphia protests: Strike a cop, steal a sneaker

When is Philadelphia going to learn that stealing sneakers in the name of injustice is never a good look? | Image: PW file photo

About half of the people shot and killed by the police nationwide are White and the other half consists of Black, Hispanic and other minorities.

Yet, it seems that with every police shooting of a minority – justified or not, criminal act or not – scores of people take to the streets and protest, riot and loot. How stealing a pair of sneakers or a TV redresses a perceived grievance escapes me.

While there are legitimate people who protest and publicly express their grievances, there are, of course, many people who are greedy, larcenous and criminal opportunists who take advantage of a weak city administration and a beleaguered police department to go out and rip off retailers.   

Stories and images of looters in Philadelphia running out of stores with boxes of sneakers, electronics and other stolen items are getting national and international press and social media coverage. This is embarrassing.

Stories and images of police officers being punched, kicked, pelted with bricks and bottles, and even struck with a speeding vehicle, are also getting national and international press and social media coverage. This is infuriating. 

Although there are rumors that a Philadelphia deputy police commissioner ordered officers not to arrest looters, scores of looters were locked up by the police. The cops I’ve spoken to wonder if the looters will be prosecuted or simply released on the orders of the DA and mayor.   

“Stories and images of looters in Philadelphia running out of stores with boxes of sneakers, electronics and other stolen items are getting national and international press and social media coverage. This is embarrassing.”

As the world knows, this latest round of civil unrest and lawlessness is over an incident involving the fatal shooting of William Wallace, Jr, a man who threatened police officers with a knife. The man had mental health issues, we have learned, but that made him more, not less, of a threat, in my view. And an initial viewing of video clips also tends to justify the police officers’ actions. 

The officers were not equipped with tasers, and those who suggest that the officers should have shot Wallace in the leg obviously don’t know anything about firearms. As I was taught in the military, police officers are trained to fire at center mass (upper torso) for maximum effectiveness. Shooting an enraged man with a weapon in the leg will not stop him from coming at you. And as any experienced shooter knows, it is far more difficult to shoot a moving man in a smaller target, such as a leg.

Had the officers not shot and killed Wallace, he might well have stabbed to death one or both of the officers. He might have also stabbed his own mother or a bystander to death. 

While all decent and caring people are sympathetic to the pain, hardship and suffering of the family and loved ones of a mental ill person, one cannot allow that mentally ill individual to harm himself or others. Police action is required to maintain public safety.    

One disgruntled and demoralized police officer I spoke to, who would rather I not use his name for fear of official retaliation, believes that the commissioner, the mayor and the DA are bold and unapologetic in their sympathy and side with Wallace and the protesters rather than with the cops. He believes that even before an official investigation has been completed, the city’s political leaders have thrown the two officers involved under the proverbially bus. 

Another angry cop I spoke to suggests that one should look at Wallace’s violent and criminal background. 

“His rap sheet is full of violence, criminal acts and terroristic threats,” the officer told me. “He should not have been on the street anyway. He should have been in prison or in a criminal mental health facility.”

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 President John McNesby, one of the few voices expressing full support for the officers, weighed in, “Our police officers are being vilified this evening for doing their job and keeping the community safe, after being confronted by a man with a knife,” McNesby said. “We support and defend these officers, as they too are traumatized by being involved in a fatal shooting. We ask the public for its patience as investigators work to gather all the facts of this tragic incident in West Philadelphia today.” 

While speaking to reporters on the campaign trail, President Trump called the police shooting of Wallace a terrible event.

“The mayor or whoever it is that’s allowing people to riot and loot and not stop them is also just a horrible thing,” Trump added. “I saw the event. Everybody did, it was on television. It was a terrible event. I guess that’s being looked at very strongly. We have the federal government looking at it also. But the rioting in Philadelphia has to stop. They have to stop it.” 

Paul Davis is a Philadelphia writer who covers crime. He has written extensively about organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white-collar crime, crime fiction, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism.

  • Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has been on the scene shortly after a number of murders were committed, from robbery-related murders to juvenile gang killings, to mob hits in South Philly. He’s interviewed homicide detectives at the Roundhouse and observed homicide detectives as they investigated […]