Philly Ethiopian community discuss police shooting of former Temple student

The Ethiopian Community Association of Greater Philadelphia held a meeting on Monday to discuss the shooting. Today, Philadelphia police released the shooting officer’s name.

West Philadelphia residents discuss the March 6 police shooting of Kaleb Belay, a former Temple University graduate student. The community met at the Ethiopian Community Association of Greater Philadelphia on Sunday. | WILL BLEIER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

UPDATE: This story was updated March 12, 2019 at 12:57 a.m.

A former Temple University graduate student is in critical condition after being shot in the chest by a Philadelphia Police officer.

Belay, a 25-year-old former Fox School of Business graduate student and Ethiopian immigrant, is in critical condition at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center as of Monday morning, according to police. He was enrolled at Temple for one semester in Fall 2018, a university spokesperson told The Temple News.

Police identified the officer who shot Belay as Kevin Pfeifer, who has been an officer for the 18th District for four years.

“We are actively conducting an investigation to protect Kaleb’s interests…if we can find anything perhaps that can shine some additional light objectively on what actually happened that night,” said Simon Haileab, Belay’s attorney. He spoke to a crowd of more than 50 people gathered at a meeting on Sunday hosted by the Ethiopian Community Association of Greater Philadelphia on Chestnut Street near 44th.

Attendees filled every seat of the community center, overflowed into the back of the room and crouched in aisles, questioning Haileab about Belay’s condition and sharing firsthand experiences with Belay, who many said mostly keeps to himself.

Belay worked as a busboy at Booker’s Restaurant and Bar on Baltimore Avenue near 50th, said Saba Tedla, the restaurant’s owner. Belay began working at the restaurant after moving from Ethiopia to attend Temple in August 2018, Tedla said.

“He’s introverted, soft-spoken and even-keeled, and so it’s surprising to me how threatening he would be physically to two police officers,” Tedla said while tearing up at Sunday’s meeting.

“Why are we allowing our police to take such aggression in our community?” she added.

Haileab said he was told by police that the officer involved was not wearing a body camera, and was not carrying a taser. 

Belay faces charges of aggravated assault, simple assault and possessing an instrument of crime, according to a police release. His hospital room in Penn Presbyterian is being guarded by police, Haileab said.

“He’s been under arrest for an offense against the officer who shot him, which is a defensive approach that the police are taking, versus identifying him as a victim as the person who was shot,” Tedla said. “It’s important for us to understand as a community the difference between a victim and a criminal.”

Pfeifer and another undisclosed officer responded to a 911 call that reported a person with a weapon or a stabbing on Hazel Avenue near 49th, in the Cedar Park section of the city around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the release. Belay emerged from a bush and did not heed officers’ calls to drop the knife, according to police.

“Both officers initially retreated while both giving him warnings to drop the knife,” PPD Capt. Sekou Kinebrew told KYW Newsradio. “The male did not comply and continued to advance toward the officers.”

Police are conducting an ongoing internal review of the shooting, which is part of procedure for officer involved shootings.

The Ethiopian Community Center will collect funds for Belay’s medical and legal costs through a GoFundMe page and host a fundraiser next week at the center, Haileab said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misreported Belay’s enrollment at Temple. He is not currently enrolled at Temple. An earlier version of this story also misspelled Belay’s first name and misstated when the Ethiopian Community Association met. The group met on Sunday. The article has been updated to reflect the correct information.

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