Dozens of people gathered outside the statue of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo late Monday afternoon as debate continues over whether or not it should be removed.
Previously planned demonstrations from groups both against and in favor of the statue's removal were planned for 4 p.m. Monday. They were postponed however after both groups announced they were meeting with current Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney to discuss the issue. Joe Mirarchi didn't attend the meeting with Kenney but is working with the pro-Rizzo group that did.
"There were so many people that wanted to come out today for this rally in support of Frank Rizzo," Mirarchi said. "Not just his statue but his legacy."
Despite the announcement that Monday's demonstrations were postponed, around 100 people still gathered at Thomas Paine Plaza Monday outside the statue which remains protected by barricades and police officers. The majority of the crowd appeared to be advocating for the statue's removal, including Anthony Smith, a member of the Philly Coalition for R.E.A.L. Justice.
"A lot of my elders say when they walk past city hall they remember when they were younger and Frank Rizzo's police force used to patrol the area and drag women by their hair out of their homes," Smith said.
Monday's rally briefly shut down traffic around city hall and caught the attention of David Sarfatti who was driving through Center City. Sarfatti believes the Rizzo statue should stay.
"These are historical monuments," Sarfatti said. "Frank Rizzo I know is controversial. No doubt about it. But so is Franklin Delano Roosevelt."
The debate over Rizzo was reignited after Philly councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym called for its removal.
"There will be a City-led public process for moving the Rizzo statue to a location better reflective of its complicated history," she said in her latest statement released Monday. "Monuments are not about permanence; they move and change as cities evolve.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Kenney told NBC10 that if a decision is made to move the statue, city policy dictates that there must be a public forum before it's moved.
Over the weekend, Gym took to Twitter and renewed her call to have the Rizzo statue removed from Philadelphia property after a week of vandalism targeted imagery of the former mayor.
“When it comes to public space, they must reflect values of the welcoming/ inclusive Philadelphia we aspire to be -- no matter how imperfect,” Gym tweeted hours after vandals threw paint on an Italian Market mural of Rizzo in South Philadelphia.
“My call is and has always been for a respectful public process to move the statue to a better location,” Gym said. “I'm committed to that.”
The string of vandalism follows renewed calls for the removal of public images in cities around the country in the wake of the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month, and national discussion over how to handle statues and monuments linked to racism and other emotionally-charged issues.
Driven by Gym, there is growing support for removing tributes to Rizzo, who died of a heart attack in 1991. Some call the statue and mural reminders of Rizzo's strained history with the African-American and gay communities during the late 1960s and 1970s.
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.
“Frank Rizzo means many things to many people,” Gym said. “He was known & loved by those who knew & loved him. Moving the statue doesn't take that away. The hatred and violence I and others have received also points to a legacy of racism/violence by those who profess to honor his memory.”
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Gym claims the vandalism is nothing new.
“The statue and mural have long been the most vandalized in the city. It is not new and points to how divisive his legacy remains," she said.
Lowlights from Rizzo's 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.
Supporters of Rizzo claim he wasn't a racist however, citing the fact that he integrated police cars with African American and white officers during his time as mayor.