In a symbolic victory for protestors in Philadelphia, the bronze statue of Frank Rizzo, a former mayor and police commissioner known for promoting aggressive policing tactics, was removed from its place near City Hall this morning.
Erected in 1998, the 10-foot-tall statue has long been targeted by activists and social-justice reformers who saw it as a symbol of police brutality and racism. It has been vandalized on numerous occasions; the most recent occurred during a spate of Black Lives Matter protests in the Pennsylvania hub this weekend, when crowds lit it on fire and attempted to take it down by force.
On Tuesday, current Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney signed an order mandating that the city’s managing director remove the statue immediately. Crowds looked on and cheered as it was hoisted away by a crane at roughly 2 a.m. this morning.
“This is the beginning of the healing process in our city,” Mayor Kenney told reporters this morning, noting that the city still has a long way to go. “That statue was representative of that era and had to go away in order for us to understand where we need to go going forward.” The sculpture is just one of many sculptures tied to America’s racist history that has re-emerged as a target of struggle in recent days.
Rizzo served as Philadelphia’s police commissioner from 1968 to 1971 and mayor of the city from 1972 to 1980. In both roles, he was known for encouraging police officers to use excessive force, especially against the black community, and for his stance against the desegregation of public schools. While campaigning for his third mayoral campaign in 1991—a campaign that saw him encouraging Philadelphians to “Vote White”—Rizzo died suddenly of a heart attack.
The monument, which was bolted into a set of stairs above a municipal concourse, was set to be removed next year as part of the renovation of the plaza on which it sits. In a statement issued by his office early this morning, Kenney called the choice to fold the removal of the statue into a larger construction project a “mistake.”
“We prioritized efficiency over full recognition of what this statue represented to Black Philadelphians and members of other marginalized communities,” he explained.
This Sunday, Kenney announced that the move would happen “in a month or so.” But as protests waged through the first part of the week, the mayor decided it could not wait any longer.
“We just needed to get it out of the way so we can move forward,” he told reporters.
The city announced that the statue will be held in storage by the Department of Public Property for the time being while authorities determine a plan for its future. At that time, the plan will be presented to the Philadelphia Art Commission for final approval.