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Protesters call for removal of Frank Rizzo statue

Tricia L. Nadolny, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Friday, August 12, 2016, 4:19 PM

Black Lives Matter activist Asa Khalif berates police after they removed the hood from the statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo outside the Municipal Services Building.

The bronze statue of former police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo that stands across from City Hall was buffed and polished ahead of last month's Democratic convention. His son said he wanted his father's shoes, which were often said to reflect like glass, shined for the festivities.

But on Friday, two protesters had different plans for the statue.

They draped a Ku Klux Klan hood on Rizzo's head, calling the monument a reminder of racial strife and discrimination that must come down. More than a thousand people have agreed with the duo, and have signed a petition calling for the statue to be removed.

"It should have never been built," said Asa Khalif, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement who organized Friday's protest. "And it should have never been placed here for us to be reminded of his brutality."

Police removed the hood after about 20 minutes.

Mayor Kenney has said he would consider moving the statue, which was a gift to the city and paid for by Rizzo's family and friends. But he said the "dialogue won't be started and finished over a few days and a few hundred signatures."

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said he has questioned the statue's location in front of the Municipal Services Building since it was erected in 1998, seven years after Rizzo died, and was glad the petition has sparked a conversation about his legacy.

There are impassioned voices on both sides.

A counter petition created Thursday urging Kenney to leave the statue where it is quickly gained supporters and suppressed the numbers on the original petition.

Rizzo was a dominant force in Philadelphia for more than three decades and a divisive character.

Those who revere him remember a champion of law and order who brought crime levels in the city to lows, and who kept Philadelphia at peace while other cities burned during the riots of the late 1960s.

But his means to that end were controversial and, critics say, discriminatory against minorities, such as when he ordered police to disrupt a peaceful rally of black high school students or when he directed police to raid the local Black Panthers headquarters, and had members strip-searched on the streets.

Arguably the most enduring image of Rizzo is of the police commissioner rushing from an event to break up a riot, a nightstick tucked into the cummerbund of his tuxedo.

Kirk Savage, a University of Pittsburgh professor who wrote a book on controversial memorials, said when a statue sparks controversy there are often two schools of thought - those who feel every piece of history must be preserved and those who say they are sometimes legitimate reasons to reassess.

Savage said he falls in the latter group because he thinks memorials can offer a "totally skewed and one-dimensional" version of history.

"So Rizzo is out there but what about all the African American victims of Rizzo and the police force?" he asked. "Where are they remembered, and where is their story told in public space? It's not, right? It's not a true history."

At Friday's protest, the two activists were far outnumbered by reporters.

Khalif, whose cousin Brandon Tate-Brown was killed by police during a car stop in Mayfair on Dec. 15, 2014, stood on a step stool about a foot too short as he tried to drape the KKK hood, which was also too small, over the statue. As he struggled, a man passing by stopped to help.

As a duck boat drove by, the guide explained the statue was of a former mayor and tourists snapped photos.

In a strange turn, Rizzo's grandson, Joe Mastronardo, at one point called a reporter who was at the protest, and was put on the phone with Khalif. The two men shouted at one another for a few seconds before hanging up.

Mastronardo said he was following the protest on Twitter and found it "just so out of line, so disgusting and so disgraceful" that he had to call.

Frank Rizzo Jr., Rizzo's son and a former member of City Council, had a more measured response.

"I guess if you're going to try to make a point, the KKK hood is a good prop," he said. "But that's all it is. It's not Frank Rizzo."

In the petition organizers said they would rather see monuments representing the contributions people of color have made to Philadelphia.

The city plans to finish installing by next spring outside City Hall a statue of Octavius Catto, a black civil rights activist who was murdered by a white man on Election Day 1871.

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny

Tricia L. Nadolny, STAFF WRITER

Read full story: Protesters call for removal of Frank Rizzo statue

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