Rabb expedites introduction of legislation to create PennCorps, to be used in mental health and wellness interventions after latest police violence

HARRISBURG, Oct. 29 – In the aftermath of the police-involved killing of Walter Wallace Jr., a 27-year-old Philadelphia man amid a mental health crisis, state Rep. Chris Rabb has introduced legislation that would revive and transform the Pennsylvania State Guard, a state defense force deactivated in 1953 with the mission to bolster community safety and public health in collaboration with community stakeholders. 

“It’s time for a system reset," Rabb said. "Policing as we know it cannot address the expansive needs of vulnerable communities across our city and state. Taxpayers will continue to be looted by a system that betrays our city’s neighborhoods most beset by disinvestment.  

"We need an independent entity accountable to community stakeholders to address the epidemic of gun violence, domestic terrorism, police violence, mental health emergencies, and other related public health crises," Rabb said. “While we wait for the investigation into the shooting to be done, one thing is already crystal clear: Walter Wallace did not have to die. Anyone who watches the video of Mr. Wallace’s shooting death can see clearly that he was a man in need of help whose only crime in that moment was inhabiting a Black body. He was a human being who was suffering. He needed a lifeline, not a death sentence.” 

Rabb’s legislation (H.B. 2957) would establish PennCorps, an intrastate entity of professionals with specialized training related to suicide prevention for on-site assessment and intervention, conflict resolution/mediation, restorative justice, contact tracing and other community-centered assistance.  Rabb had put forth similar legislation in 2018.  

On Monday afternoon, after Wallace’s family called 911 for the third time that day, two police officers who had responded each fired seven gunshots at Wallace, killing him as his mother and other onlookers watched. Wallace was holding a knife at the time and had not responded to the officers’ calls to drop the knife. He was standing in the street when the officers opened fire. 

“Too many lives have been lost to inertia," Rabb said. "Our Commonwealth suffers from a community safety crisis whose symptoms degrade public health outcomes across the state. 

“It is our moral and constitutional responsibility to address a health crisis that is manifested in all manner of public and private life, including mass shootings, daily gunfire in city streets, domestic violence, and suicides in every corner of the state," Rabb said. "We, as state lawmakers, have a moral obligation to act.” 

Since the killing of Walter Wallace Jr., further acts of police violence have been documented and reported as protests continue within and beyond West Philadelphia. 

Rabb has authored other similar bills, including two enacted into law earlier this year in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests stemming from the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

Act 57 of 2020 established a police misconduct database and Act 63 of 2020, which incorporated language from legislation Rabb introduced, outlawed the sexual assault of people in police custody. Both measures were enacted into law in July.