Following a day of massive and largely peaceful protests against racism and police violence, the South Philadelphia mural of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo – to many a symbol of both issues – was painted over.
"We know that the removal of this mural does not erase painful memories and are deeply apologetic for the amount of grief it has caused. We believe this is a step in the right direction and hope to aid in healing our city through the power of thoughtful and inclusive public art," a spokesperson for Mural Arts, the nonprofit that maintains and creates murals around the city, said in a statement.
Crews began painting over the mural in the Italian Market neighborhood shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday and completed the task in about an hour’s time. The Mural Arts spokesperson said the nonprofit will collaborate with community members to create "a new mural project that can reflect the fabric of S. 9th Street."
The covering of the mural followed the announcement earlier in the week by a spokesperson for the South 9th Street Italian Market that the large painting would be replaced.
“Together, The S. 9th Street Shopping District, the property owners and the Mural Arts program are working to create a new mural, that better represents the fabric of S. 9th Street to replace the current Frank Rizzo mural,” the spokesperson wrote.
Officials had said it was time to replace the painting of Rizzo in order to “begin to heal the Black community, the LGBTQ community and many others.”
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Earlier in the week, the bronze statue of the controversial former mayor and police commissioner was removed from the steps of Philadelphia’s Municipal Services Building.
The current mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, said "the statue represented bigotry, hatred and oppression for too many people, for too long."
The statue’s removal was expedited after protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man killed when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd being handcuffed and begging for breath.
During the protests, and others before, people had repeatedly defaced and tried to topple the effigy.
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.
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.