Philadelphia removes statue of ex-mayor seen as ‘deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality’
Philadelphia officials removed a statue honoring the late former Mayor Frank Rizzo overnight, a decision the city’s current mayor said was meant to acknowledge Rizzo’s mistreatment of African American and LGBT communities during his controversial tenure in office.
Rizzo, who served two terms as mayor in the 1970s after three years as the city’s police commissioner, left a legacy of racism and homophobia in his wake. In recent days, the statue honoring him in front of city hall had become a target of those protesting police brutality after the murder of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who was killed while in police custody earlier this month.
Mayor Jim Kenney (D) had promised to take down the statue over the course of the next few months. In a statement early Wednesday, Kenney said he had made a mistake, acknowledging the symbol the statue had become for black Philadelphians.
“The continued display of the statue has understandably enraged and hurt many Philadelphians, including those protesting the heinous murders of George Floyd and too many others. I have seen and heard their anguish. This statue now no longer stands in front of a building that serves all Philadelphians,” Kenney said.
“The statue is a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others. The treatment of these communities under Mr. Rizzo’s leadership was among the worst periods in Philadelphia’s history,” he said. “The battle for equal rights and justice is still being fought decades later, and our city is still working to erase that legacy. We now need to work for true equity for all Philadelphia residents, and toward healing our communities. The removal of this statue today is but a small step in that process.”
As police commissioner, Rizzo led crackdowns against the Black Panther Party and black liberation groups. He once said his response to anti-police protestors would “make Attila the Hun look like a f—–.” He summed up his theory of treating criminals as “spacco il cappo,” or breaking the head.
The Philadelphia Inquirer won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for documenting patterns of police brutality under Rizzo’s leadership.
As mayor, Rizzo opposed new public housing projects in majority-white neighborhoods, and he opposed desegregating the city’s schools.
He switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1986. He ran for mayor a third time, winning the Republican nomination in 1991. Rizzo died of a heart attack before Election Day.
The statue honoring him was unveiled in 1999, donated to the city by friends and supporters. But it had long been a target of vandals critical of the stain he had left on Philadelphia. Calls to remove the statue increased in the wake of white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, as other states moved to take down monuments to Confederate icons.
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