On January 1, 1999, a statue of Frank Rizzo was installed in front of the Municipal Services Building. Tellingly, the statue was unveiled after the Mummers parade which is known for its exclusionary practices and racially-charged antics.
The former police commissioner served as mayor from 1972 to 1980. Rizzo’s brutal legacy is memorialized in the 1979 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department charging the Philadelphia Police Department with engaging in a pattern and practice of brutal behavior that “shocks the conscience.” It was the first time a city was prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Almost from Day One, there have been public protests demanding the removal of the statue from its prominent perch across from City Hall. In the wake of Charlottesville, the calls have grown louder. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Solomon Jones recently wrote:
Because he oversaw and maintained police brutality in the black and brown communities in which I grew up, the statue of Frank Rizzo must immediately be removed from the steps of the taxpayer-funded Municipal Services Building.
Not one more cent of my tax dollars maintaining it. Not one more moment of my property housing it. Not one more word from my city excusing it.
The Frank Rizzo statue must be moved to private property, and it must be moved now.
Frank Rizzo was both the symbol and the substance of a racist system upheld by law enforcement. His police force was used to maintain racial boundaries that kept blacks trapped in red-lined communities, locked into a segregated educational system, and mired in the ongoing morass of second-class citizenship.
Attorney Michael Coard is unsparing in his takedown of Rizzo. Coard wrote the installation of the monument to police brutality “broke each of the Ten Commandments of Race/Politics in Philadelphia.”
The drumbeat of voices calling for the removal of the statue forced Mayor Jim Kenney to initiate the process to consider the removal or relocation of the artwork. The City of Philadelphia issued a “Call for Ideas: Rizzo Statue.” To amplify voices from the African American community and allies, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Action Network has prepared a form letter that concerned citizens can sign on Wednesday, September 13, between 9am and 6pm. The PA NAN office is located at 1046 W. Jefferson Street, Lower Level.
The letters will be hand-delivered to City Hall on Friday, September 15. If you have any questions, call (215) 765-6181. Let’s do this.