Giordano: Foes of Rizzo statue are focused on the wrong things

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Black Lives Matter supporters (left) place a Ku Klux Klan hood atop the Frank Rizzo statue. At right, backers rally in support of the statue.

IN A WEEK in Philadelphia that saw two very young African-American children seriously wounded when caught in gunfire near their homes, it was typical that Black Lives Matter activists focused instead on cleansing the city of the ghost of former Mayor Frank Rizzo.

They have announced their campaign to remove his statue from the entrance of the Municipal Services Building. It was also typical that radical Mayor Kenney immediately gave them hope that this might happen.

BLM's petition reminds me of the drive to remove monuments in the South of Confederate Civil War generals. The petition says that "Rizzo was an unrepentant racist who stopped at nothing to torture and hold Philadelphia's African-American community as his personal hostages." The petition closes with "The black community would rather see representations of the great contributions made by African-Americans and other people of color to this city's development. These statues should be erected in place of the constant representations of Christopher Columbus, war heroes, Frank Rizzo and others who have held communities of color in subjugation."

These kinds of statements probably appeal to Kenney's historical sweet spot. As a city councilman, Kenney led the charge to pass a non-binding resolution calling upon Philadelphia Public Schools to use Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Zinn is the guy who called Mao's China "(t)he closest thing, in the long history of the ancient country, to a people's government, independent of outside control." He has said of Castro's Cuba, "There was no bloody record of suppression."

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, co-author of the Zinn resolution, told me on my radio show, "Castro didn't do everything wrong, or he would not have lasted so long."

So, with these perspectives, I guess it might be easy to see Rizzo as akin to a Confederate general. Of course, any thoughtful person realizes that the Rizzo era and his legacy are a lot more complicated. Of course, Rizzo was the ultimate tough cop, who clashed with MOVE and with the Black Panthers. However, he was also admired by many African-Americans and was an icon in many Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The bottom line is that Rizzo is arguably the most important public figure in Philadelphia over the last 50 to 60 years. We should not be like the old Soviet Union and erase him from public view.

In the same vein, I've read news reports that a sculptor is working on a bust of former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode. I've interviewed Goode and I find him to be a very nice and deeply spiritual man. However, I also thought he was an incompetent mayor who bombed his own city. Of course, he was Philadelphia's first African-American mayor and should be celebrated, warts and all.

The better way to celebrate major historic figures in public art is to be more expansive and inclusive. I like that the City of Philadelphia will unveil a major work celebrating Octavius Catto in 2017. Catto was a black educator and civil-rights activist in Philadelphia who was shot and killed in 1871 Election Day violence when elements of the Democratic Party, which at the time opposed Reconstruction and voting by black people, attacked black men to prevent them from voting for Republican candidates.

By the way, Rizzo's family wanted the statue to be placed in front of the Municipal Services Building because Rizzo's genius was delivering city services. He was committed to making sure the potholes were fixed and things worked. It was his personal attention to detail to make Philadelphia's neighborhoods sparkle.

Jared Brey, writing at Philadelphia Magazine, asked, "What would it say to take down such a prominent piece of public art depicting Rizzo?" Brey seems to conclude that it would mean that Philadelphia doesn't want to celebrate a legacy of racism and police brutality.

Kenney is caving into a small group of activists who celebrate censorship, disruption and shutting things down. Their grievances cannot be satiated, plain and simple. If the Rizzo statue comes down, they'll move on to another target. And sadly, we won't be an inch closer to stopping innocent, young kids from being shot.

Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on WPHT (1210-AM). Contact him at www.domgiordano.com

@DomShow1210