What to Know
- Crew members removed the bronze statue of controversial Philadelphia mayor and former police commissioner Frank Rizzo early Wednesday morning.
- The removal comes less than a week after Mayor Kenney announced the city was accelerating efforts to remove it. On Wednesday he said the statue represented bigotry, hatred, and oppression for too many people, for too long
- Protesters on Saturday defaced the statue once again with graffiti and made an attempt to yank it off the steps.
The bronze statue of controversial former Philadelphia mayor and former police commissioner Frank Rizzo was removed in the dark of night from its prominent location in the city’s municipal core.
The current mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, said "the statue represented bigotry, hatred and oppression for too many people, for too long."
Kenney signed an executive order Tuesday ordering the statue's immediate removal, the mayor's office said.
About a dozen crew members then arrived shortly after midnight Wednesday and began loosening the statue from where it stood on the steps of the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall. Members of the National Guard surrounded the area as they worked to remove it.
A crane was then used to lift the 10-foot statue from its platform. It was then gently placed on the back of a flatbed truck.
Shortly before 2 a.m., the truck drove off with the statue. It will be placed in storage until the city develops a plan to "donate, relocate, or otherwise dispose of it," Kenney said.
The removal comes less than a week after Kenney announced the city was accelerating efforts to remove the effigy, though his timeline was "another month or so."
Kenney said the anti-racism and anti-police brutality demonstrations that started over the weekend accelerated the decision to remove the statue, but noted that even before then, it had become a "focal point of all protests."
“In the course of the last week, it was clear that we needed to show a symbolic effort to tell people we’re moving on and we’re gonna do better," the mayor said Wednesday morning as he stood in front of the Municipal Services Building, statue now gone. He added that the removal was "a victory for all of us."
“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," the mayor said in a statement preceding his news conference.
Later Wednesday, Mural Arts, the nonprofit that maintains and creates murals around the city, announced that it would "cease all involvement" with the mural of Rizzo near the Italian Market in South Philadelphia.
"We do not believe the mural can play a role in healing and supporting dialogue, but rather it has become a painful reminder for many of the former Mayor's legacy, and only adds to the pain and anger," a Twitter thread said.
Rizzo has a divided history among Philadelphians. Some see him as a devoted public servant while to others he represents systemic racism and brutality against minority communities.
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The sculpture, which was installed in 1999, has represented a cultural flash point for racial tensions in the city – akin to sculptures of confederate leaders in southern states. It was defaced several times before Saturday's violent demonstrations. Attempts to physically pull it down also failed several times.
Protesters on Saturday defaced the statue once again with graffiti and made an attempt to yank it off the steps. The statue was cleaned on Sunday. Kenney said no special efforts were made to clean it.
Kenney said the city was planning to move the statue when Dilworth Park was renovated, but that was delayed because of how the statue was engineered. The statue was drilled into the plaza and concourse below, which is where city services like obtaining permits take place. The mayor also said the cost to remove it would total hundreds of thousands of dollars which is why the city was waiting for an overall renovation project to make the move.
"I never liked that statue. I don't think it's been deserved in the first place and I didn't put it there," Kenney said Sunday.
On Wednesday, Kenney said his decision to delay the removal due to cost effectiveness "was a mistake."
“We prioritized efficiency over full recognition of what this statue represented to Black Philadelphians and members of other marginalized communities," Kenney said in a statement. "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.”
Rizzo's critics, many of them people of color, recall his approach to policing and governing as corrupt and racist. The South Philadelphia native served as mayor from 1972 to 1980 and is remembered by supporters as a devoted, outspoken public servant who championed the city.
Rizzo became police commissioner in 1967, memorably responding to a disturbance at a housing project wearing a tuxedo with a nightstick tucked into his cummerbund. He served two terms as mayor as a Democrat before switching to the GOP.
His four-year stint as commissioner was marked by praise for crime-fighting and criticism for rights infringement and was punctuated by some confrontations with African-Americans. In 1967, Rizzo and the police confronted a few hundred black students protesting outside the Board of Education Building. Officers clubbed some of the students after a few climbed atop cars. In 1970, two groups affiliated with the Black Panthers were raided and strip-searched on the sidewalk.
Yet he's also credited with hiring large numbers of African-American officers and promoting several black officers during his stint as commissioner.