Frank Rizzo, the outspoken former police commissioner and mayor, is seen as a hard-nosed law-and-order figure by some.
But to Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia, Rizzo’s time in public office was marked by violent crackdowns on black activists and statements that many viewed as racist.
And so, activists are pushing city officials to remove the nine-foot bronze statue in front of the Municipal Services Building across the street from City Hall.
“Black and brown people are still walking around with the scars from Rizzo,” said Asa Khalif, spokesman for Black Lives Matter’s Pennsylvania chapter. “If you truly want to bring healing, if you truly want to start a dialogue with the police and black and brown people, tear down that statue. Tear it down.”
Protesters say the statue, which was installed in 1998 seven years after Rizzo’s death, is a symbol of discrimination and police brutality in a time when city officials say they are committed to reforms aimed at repairing the relationship between police officers and many black communities.
Although the polarizing former cop once remarked that his “greatest frustration” was that he had to defend against accusations of being a racist, he reportedly used racist language to refer to black residents in private conversations, in addition to a number of other inflammatory remarks.
“You still deal with the effects of that. You hear your parents, you hear your grandparents, and his name comes up, and you see a look on their face,” Khalif said. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t really changed. We’re still talking about police officers shooting people in the back. We’re still fighting in the streets.”
The statue was a gift to the city, which was paid for by Rizzo’s family and friends.
Mayor Jim Kenney, in response to the petition, pointed out that the stated goal of the campaign is 500 signatures.
“The late Mayor Rizzo means something, both good and bad, to many more Philadelphians than that,” said Kenney in a statement. “I’m happy to have a dialogue about the future of Rizzo’s likeness in relation to its location, but that dialogue won’t be started and finished over a few days and a few hundred signatures.”
Meanwhile, Khalif said the petition is not the final stand on the statue. In the coming weeks, Black Lives Matter will be planning demonstrations to demand that city officials take away the Rizzo statue.
If city official don’t act, Khalif said, actvists will find another way.
“It didn’t come down in our parents’ generation,” Khalif said. “But it damn sure is going to come down with our generation.”