New Jersey

Police Guard Frank Rizzo Statue Amid Talks to Remove Bronze of Former Philly Mayor

Supporters and detractors of statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo come forward

Officers will stand guard around the Frank Rizzo statue Thursday amid calls for the bronze of the former Philadelphia mayor to be removed from city property continue.

The statue outside the Municipal Services Building, in the shadow of City Hall, has come under fire as a Philadelphia councilwoman has renewed calls for it to be removed. After a series of vandalism, officers stood guard early Thursday morning.

The show of police force cam after protesters yelled "Tear it down" while standing nearby.

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Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney said earlier in the week that now is the "right time" for a conversation about the statue of Rizzo, a former mayor and police commissioner who critics say reigned over the city when police brutality was the accepted norm.

The talk comes days after a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that was sparked by the planned removal of a Confederate statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, and as cities and institutions across the country are tackling how to handle monuments linked to racism and other emotionally charged issues.

Philadelphia has long tried to reconcile the complicated legacy of Rizzo, who served as mayor from 1972 to 1980 and who died of a heart attack in 1991. His friends, family and fans remember him as a devoted public servant unafraid to speak his mind. His detractors saw his police force as corrupt and brutal and said Rizzo alienated minorities both as police commissioner and mayor.

On Monday, Democratic Councilwoman Helen Gym said that the statue should be removed.

"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," she tweeted.

Rizzo’s fraught history with the city is nothing new, Gym later told NBC10.

“In a way, you can date this all the way back to when he was in office,” she said, adding that Rizzo regularly used racial epithets and advocated for publicly strip-searching members of the Black Panther party.

“What happened, to some extent in Charlottesville, comes out of a nation that needs to be able to confront its own racism and history. We can’t marginalize racism. We can’t deny that it’s growing [and] growing more violent.”

She said she would initiate a public process around the statue when the city council reconvenes in September.

Overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, a sign reading "Shame on President Trump" was hung around the statue's neck, and on Wednesday a man from Maplewood, New Jersey, was charged with disorderly conduct for throwing eggs at it earlier in the day.

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.

Calls to remove the statue aren't new. A year ago, an anti-police brutality group launched an online petition to take the statue down.

Many of Rizzo's supporters have come forward however, calling for the statue to remain.

"It's very near and dear to my heart that the statue stay and that the mayor's legacy live on," Edward Durst told NBC10.

Thousands of people signed a recent online petition to keep the statue in place, including Jody Della Barba who doesn't believe Rizzo was racist.

"The first thing he did was integrate the police cars," Barba said. "Put a black and white officer inside the car. Is that a racist? I don't think so."

Robert Bogle, the president and CEO of the Philadelphia Tribune, told NBC10 his feelings on the statue are mixed. While he acknowledged that Rizzo gave the Philadelphia Tribune, the country's oldest continually published African-American newspaper, equal access for the first time in 90 years, he also feels the former mayor didn't always do the right thing.

"I think those who permitted the statue to be put there, who represent the citizens of Philadelphia, should be responsible to respond to that," Bogle said.

Philadelphia Police officers along with barricades will surround the statue for the foreseeable future.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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