Hours after the statue of Frank Rizzo was removed from the steps of the city’s Municipal Services Building, officials announced they would replace the mural of the controversial former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner near the Italian Market in South Philadelphia.
“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,” a spokesperson for the South 9th Street Italian Market wrote Wednesday.
The spokesperson said the mural will become a blank canvas as soon as possible in the interim before a new mural replaces it.
“We agree it is time to replace this long-standing piece of art to begin to heal the Black community, the LGBTQ community and many others,” the spokesperson wrote.
The spokesperson also addressed the Italian Market’s recent hiring of private security due to the protests, riots and looting in Philadelphia amid nationwide unrest in response to the death of George Floyd.
“Our rationale in hiring trained professionals is to prevent vigilantism, violence and threats to residents,” the spokesperson wrote.
The spokesperson said the hired security underwent hours of training focused on “diversity, diffusing situations and properly identifying threats.”
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“We see you. We hear you. We stand with you,” the spokesperson wrote. “Our sympathies go out to the Floyd family. Our hearts are with everyone that has suffered senseless loss.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Mural Arts, the nonprofit that maintains and creates murals around the city, announced that it would "cease all involvement" with the Rizzo mural.
"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.
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.