In the last year, petitions have circulated regarding what should (or should not) be done with the statue of the late Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, whose legacy has been called into question.
While many were fond of the first Italian-American mayor of Philadelphia, African-American and LGBTQ communities allege that during Rizzo’s tenure as mayor, he oversaw or overlooked abuses by police in their communities. Last month, protests about the statue reignited a debate throughout the city – but when Mayor Kenney put out a call for public input, the public’s response was underwhelming. Here are just a few unique opinions on the statue.
“He was a horrible person.”
Some Philadelphians have argued that the statue could have a place somewhere else.
“It can go somewhere, but it shouldn’t be there,” said Mike Kokayko.
The statue’s dominant location at the City Municipal Services building, facing City Hall, is contentious to others, too. Daily News columnist Solomon Jones has argued that the statue should be moved to private property, where its maintenance would become the responsibility of the owner rather than the taxpayers of Philadelphia.
“They have to take all statues down.”
The Rizzo statue brings up a broader national argument about the significance and purpose of monuments in general.
“It was genocide since Europeans came here,” said Raymond Brown. “From the time they came here they were deceiving people. All statues should come down, but not Martin Luther King.”
In a timely project, Mural Arts Philadelphia has installed temporary monuments throughout the city as a part of its Monument Lab. The lab will continue through November 19, 2017, and through it Mural Arts Philadelphia seeks to facilitate discussion about what an “appropriate” monument is for Philadelphia today.
“Rizzo needs to come down.”
The Monument Lab includes a statue by artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose work focuses on “African American representation, civil rights and belonging in the city.” It was installed steps away from the Rizzo statue.
“Every time people who know that history walk past this statue, it’s a hateful reminder of his politics and his policing and of what he did to people of color in this city,” said Talia Charidah, who came to see Rizzo’s new neighbor the morning after it appeared.
“Let them move it, he gots to go.”
Shawdea Hall was also among those who were just fine with getting rid of Rizzo’s statue.
But where would he go?
One seemingly viable option is for the statue to go to the Italian Market in South Philadelphia, where the Italian-American community saw Rizzo as a hero. As of August, however, Aubrey Whelan of The Inquirer reported that Rizzo’s place there is in question as well: Whelan reported that Mural Arts Philadelphia will consider removing a mural of Rizzo there, as it is a frequent target of vandalism.
“It has been there since I remember, I don’t really have an opinion.”
Judging by the low response rate to public feedback forms as reported by The Inquirer, Elizabeth Hannah’s view may be more common than was once believed.
There seem to be fewer strong opinions in this debate than one would think. Some may believe that the city’s collective energy could be better spent on fixing the political structures that allow such abuses to occur as those that minority communities allege took place at the hands of Frank Rizzo.
All the same, Mayor Kenney has said that “now is a good time” to talk about the 10-foot tall statue’s future. One might struggle to imagine a better opportunity to publicly discuss who we choose to look up to in this city.
-Text and images by Caitlyn Heter and Linda Sheppard.