In wake of vandalism to Rizzo mural, some weigh what’s to be done
By Lindsey Nolen
The effects stemming from the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., have hit South Philly. After a nationwide push to remove symbols of the confederacy, protesters vandalized both the Frank Rizzo statue in Center City, and his mural located in the 9th Street Italian Market, to demonstrate their disapproval of his allegedly racist and pro-police brutality leadership as mayor from 1972 to 1980.
Most recently, on Saturday, Aug. 19 at approximately 3 a.m., police chased down offenders, catching just one of the roughly eight vandals who allegedly defaced the Rizzo mural. In addition to throwing white paint on the Rizzo mural’s nose, the suspects also managed to write “kill killer cops” and “RIP David” (a possible reference to the death of David Jones, a 30-year-old who was shot in the back by a Philadelphia Police officer in June) on the mural, but the wording was quickly covered by city workers in the daylight that followed.
This act of vandalism came just two days after the words “black power” were spray painted on the Rizzo statue located at the Municipal Services Building. Since then, Wali Rahman, a Germantown resident who ran for mayor in 2011, was arrested and charged with this act of vandalism.
Despite the unarguable illegality of vandalizing city property, public figures and community members alike have supported various sides of the argument over whether the Rizzo memorials should remain on display. To some, the statue and mural are historical features and celebrate a determined and hard-working politician and city man, while to others they demonstrate the celebration of a man who exhibited a harmful, prejudiced agenda.
“I don’t think we should be memorializing [Rizzo],” Tony Lawton, a Roxborough resident who was shopping at the Italian Market on Saturday afternoon, said. “My understanding of him is that he was a racist and perpetrator of police brutality.”
Although Lawton couldn’t think of another prominent Philadelphian whose image should go up on the wall instead, he suggested that for now it remain blank.
Similarly, the mural’s original artist, Diane Keller, commented that although she also doesn’t have a solution in mind, she believes now is a good time for the community to have the conversation regarding what should be done with the Rizzo mural.
On the other hand, Gloria Endres, who was a young teacher when Rizzo was police commissioner, remembers a time of great turmoil throughout Philadelphia, especially after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968. During this time, she also recalls Rizzo having come down hard on lawbreakers and rioters, helping the city to avoid the worst cases of urban unrest that had been affecting other cities across the country.
“There was also a proliferation of street gangs and youth violence during that time,” Endres said. “Mayor Rizzo never gave up upholding law and order, and citizens of all races understood that. He was often uncouth or cruel, but he kept us safe.”
Another Philly resident during Rizzo’s tenures as both police commissioner and mayor, Joe Friel, added he believes every citizen has the right to protest and demonstrate, but defacing the statue and mural is wrong. He continued that under Rizzo’s leadership he believed the city was safe to live in.
“Now it’s a 2017 version of Dodge City. Although Police Commissioner Ross is a good top police commissioner, he doesn’t get a lot of support,” Friel, a Philadelphia resident, said. As for possibly moving the statue, perhaps it should go in the Italian Market or in the lobby of the new police administration building at Broad Street and Callowhill Street, he added.
Councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym took to Twitter on Monday, Aug. 14, to oppose the statue and mural. Then, on Saturday, Aug. 19, she called for a “respectful public process to move the statue to a better location.” Gym also referred to the statue and mural as “the most vandalized in the city.”
“I condemn vandalism. It’s illegal and the perpetrators will be charged accordingly,” added Mayor Jim Kenney.
Yet, while the mayor voiced he doesn’t personally like the statue, his office commented his opinion isn’t the only one that counts. This is because the city has a pre-established policy on the decommissioning of public art, which includes initially soliciting public input.
“The policy was first established in 2012 and updated in 2015,” Lauren Hitt, Kenney’s spokeswoman, said. “Before we begin the process laid out [in the policy], we are going to solicit public input on what Philadelphians would like to see for the future of the statue. If we ultimately move forward with requesting a change, that public input would inform the petition that the public art director transmits to the Art Commission.”
She added the mayor’s office will be figuring out the structure to solicit public input in the coming days.
Criteria for Removal of Publicly Displayed Art
Publicly displayed city artwork may be removed from public display for one or more of the following reasons:
•The work of art is damaged irreparably and/or repair is unfeasible or costs exceed the value of the work.
•The work has been damaged or has deteriorated to the point that it can no longer be represented to be the original work of art.
•The artwork has faults or inherent vices that require repeated and excessive maintenance efforts.
•The artwork endangers public safety.
•The condition or security of an artwork cannot be reasonably guaranteed.
•If public protest of the artwork has occurred throughout a significant portion of a period of five years.
•If the approved terms of the contract pursuant to which the artwork was installed have not been fulfilled.
•Significant changes in the use, character or actual design of the site lead to a determination that there has been a sufficient change in the relationship of the artwork to the site such that removal is warranted.
•A determination is made that the artwork is no longer suited to its location or is best suited to a new location.
•Removal is requested by the artist.
This policy was established in 2012, and was revised and approved by the Art Commission and the Law Department in January 2015.