When protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd broke out in Philadelphia on Saturday May 30, the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo across from City Hall quickly became a focal point of the demonstration. Protestors painted messages across the statue and attempted to topple the monument using chains, a hammer, and a metal barricade. The following day, police and national guard were seen protecting the monument which had been scrubbed clean.
Early Wednesday morning, city workers removed the controversial statue. Philadelphia officials had announced plans to move the Rizzo statue in 2017, but the monument was set to remain across from City Hall until July 2021. Protests likely encouraged Mayor Jim Kenney to push the date forward. Kenney described the removal as the “beginning of a healing process in our city,” but ultimately, “not the be-all and end-all of where we need to go.”
The statue was not only the only public artwork depicting Rizzo removed after recent protests. On Sunday, June 7, Mural Arts Philadelphia painted over the Rizzo mural on South 9th Street in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Mural Arts announced that the painting was removed with the consent of the building owner. The organization plans to replace it with a new mural that “better represents the fabric of S. 9th Street.”
Philadelphia’s monuments to the former mayor and police commissioner have become targets during protests because of the brutality of policing under Rizzo’s reign. As police commissioner, Rizzo presided over the raid of the Philadelphia Black Panthers headquarters, during which members were publicly strip-searched. In 1978, when Rizzo was mayor, police initiated a standoff at the MOVE house. Nine MOVE members were sentenced to a maximum of 100 years in prison for the death of an officer during the standoff. MOVE maintains that the officer was killed by friendly-fire. These examples of brutality led the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department in 1979. The lawsuit specifically accused Rizzo of implementing many illegal practices, such as abusing handcuffed prisoners and shooting nonviolent suspects, while he was police commissioner.