‘Black Power’ Spray-Painted on Statue of Polarizing Philadelphia Mayor

on Aug18

18 August 2017 | 1:23 pm

The Center City statue of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s polarizing former police commissioner and mayor, was defaced late Thursday with the words “Black Power” written in white spray paint.

The vandal also wrote “The Black community should be their own police” on the steps of the Municipal Services Building on John F. Kennedy Boulevard where the statue stands.

Vandalism of the bronze statue follows renewed calls for its removal in the wake of the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and national discussion over how to handle statues and monuments linked to racism and other emotionally charged issues. 

A Rizzo supporter covered the vandalized midsection of the statue with a sheet overnight. City crews later used soap and brooms to clean up the graffiti and by daybreak the words were gone from the statue of a waving Rizzo at its prominent location across from City Hall.

Philadelphia police took the suspected vandal, who investigators say drove off in a Toyota station wagon, into custody before 7 a.m. It is unclear what charges he could face. The latest act of vandalism came after protesters clashed with police near the statue and a man from Maplewood, New Jersey, was arrested after cameras allegedly captured him throwing eggs at the statue.

The bronze statue, unveiled in the late 1990s, depicts Rizzo bounding down the steps of the Municipal Services Building. It was donated to the city.

Driven by Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym, there is growing support for removing the tribute to Rizzo, who died of a heart attack in 1991. Some call it a reminder of Rizzo’s “racist relationship towards Philadelphia’s African-American community” in the late 1960s and 1970s. 

The first-term Democrat tweeted that “all around the country, we’re fighting to remove the monuments to slavery & racism. Philly, we have work to do. Take the Rizzo statue down.”

Mayor Jim Kenney hasn’t rejected the idea.

“If there’s a group of people or folks in the city who want to reconsider the placement of the statue, whether it be removed or relocated, that’s up to them to go through the same process as the people who erected it,” Kenney said.

It’s not the first time activists have demanded the stature be removed. Last year, an anti-police brutality group called Philly Coalition for Real Justice petitioned for its removal.

Rizzo, a hard-charging, big-mouthed icon of head-cracking law enforcement in Philadelphia, served as police commissioner for four years before serving two terms as the city’s mayor from 1972 to 1980. His friends, family and fans remember him as a devoted public servant unafraid to speak his mind. Thousands of people signed a recent online petition to keep the statue in place.

Rizzo’s detractors saw his police force as corrupt and brutal.

Lowlights from his time as police commissioner include an incident in 1970 of officers raiding the Philadelphia headquarters of the Black Panthers and forcing the men to strip in public.

For those who knew and covered him, like former cop and retired Inquirer reporter Thomas J. Gibbons Jr. and NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Rizzo can’t be easily compared to other politicians. And Rizzo doesn’t belong in the same category as long-gone Confederate leaders whose statues are coming down across the country.

Gibbons remembers Rizzo fondly for his tough policing, describing the 6 feet, 2 inch Italian American from South Philly as the guy who “when he entered a room, everything else stopped.”

“He is not by any means Robert E. Lee, or Chief Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision,” said Mitchell, who began her career as a radio and television reporter for KYW during much of the Rizzo years. “He was a twice-elected mayor of Philadelphia, who was clearly controversial in his years as police commissioner. But from a distance, I would say he is not analogous to those Confederate leaders who tried to overthrow the government.”

When Rizzo said in 1978 that he wouldn’t seek a third term in office he vowed to “defend the rights” of whites who had been “kicked around too long,” The Washington Post reported. 

But Mitchell said that, “For all of this flaws, Rizzo never publicly defended white separatists.”

Published 23 minutes ago | Updated 19 minutes ago

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