August 14, 2016
In Center City, a 9-foot statue of a former Philadelphia mayor is at the center of a debate and thousands are picking sides.
The bronze sculpture of Frank Rizzo, a polarizing figure who served as the city's police commissioner from 1967 to 1971 before becoming the mayor from 1972 to 1980, was unveiled in 1999 outside the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall.
When Rizzo died in 1991, he left a complicated legacy in the city that remains unsettled.
Last week, the debate was renewed when an online petition that called for the statue's removal was created by Erica Mines, a local Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist. As of Sunday night, 1,144 people have signed the petition.
The petition accuses Rizzo of being a racist, noting incidents involving members of the Black Panther Party in 1970 and members of the MOVE group in 1978.
On Friday, a small protest was conducted when a pair of BLM activists placed a Ku Klux Klan-like hood over the statue.
Mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement later that afternoon welcoming a discussion about the statue's location.
"The late Mayor Rizzo means something, both good and bad, to many more Philadelphians than that," Kenney said. "I'm happy to have a dialogue about the future of Rizzo's likeness in relation to its location, but that dialogue won't be started and finished over a few days and a few hundred signatures."
However, Rizzo's grandson Joe Mastronardo vehemently defended the statue via a phone call during the protest.
Mastronardo appears to have plenty of support, according to a counter-petition created in response to the protest.
More than 2,900 signatures have been added to the counter-petition calling for Kenney to leave the statue where it is.
The counter-petition defends Rizzo's actions, citing efforts that led to the advancement of African American officers and reduced friction between civilians and police forces.
The conversation comes as the city prepares to unveil a statue of local civil rights leader Octavius V. Catto in the fall.
Showing the model of the Octavius V. Catto statue that'll be unveiled on Southwest Corner of City Hall fall 2016! pic.twitter.com/SsFfIBuAbj— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) August 10, 2016
With thousands of supporters on both sides of the Rizzo statue, the debate won't be settled quickly.