One of Philadelphia’s most important buildings, once the site of a statue to one of the city’s most controversial mayors and police commissioners, will now honor the Black Lives Matter movement.
The “Crown” mural by artist Russel Craig now lines the front windows of the Municipal Services Building, which is just across City Hall and until recently featured a statue dedicated to ex-mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo.
The mural came together as the city looked for avenues of reconciliation following widespread protests against police violence and racism, Mayor Jim Kenney said.
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“Now, these powerful images of people fighting for justice and demanding change will greet those entering the Municipal Services Building,” he said.
The mural features a group of people, mostly Black, raising their fists in the air and coming together to form a crown, an intentional decision guided by the current coronavirus pandemic, whose prefix “corona” translates to “crown.”
Featuring a Black woman as an allegory to Liberty, the work draws from Eugene Delacroix's 1830 "Liberty Leading the People" painting, which also features a woman leading the charge during France's July Revolution.
Despite the pandemic, millions of people in Philadelphia and around the globe marched against systemic racism earlier this year following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
“To see the people from around the world unite against racism and oppression is truly a royal experience to witness this in our lifetime,” said Craig, who spent nearly 10 years behind bars and is an alumnus of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Guild program.
We at Mural Arts are proud to live in a city where the door is open for returning citizens to become part of the creative sector, since frequently that door is shut. The goal is for this piece of public art to become a focal point and a beacon, a source of pride and inspiration, and, most importantly, a place where healing can begin,” Mural Arts Philadelphia Executive Director Jane Golden said.
The placement of the mural was equally intentional, given that the steps to the Municipal Services Building once featured a bronze Rizzo statue that drew the ire of many in the city and frequently became the target of vandalism, including during the Floyd protests.
Kenney had gone on record calling the statue “a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others,” and said the protests caused the city to speed up its removal.
Rizzo has for decades divided opinion among Philadelphians. He became police commissioner in 1967 and also 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.
Yet he's also credited with hiring large numbers of African American officers and promoting several black officers during his stint as commissioner.