Philly teacher charged in altercation with police at Rizzo statue protest

A Philadelphia public school teacher has been charged in connection with an altercation with police during a protest near the statue of Frank Rizzo, the city’s former mayor and police commissioner, outside the Municipal Services Building earlier this month, authorities said Saturday.

John Edward Sheerin, 63, of the 6200 block of Hasbrook Avenue in the city’s Crescentville section, was arrested without incident Friday night and charged with terroristic threats and harassment for allegedly making verbal threats of violence to a Philadelphia police officer, police said.

The alleged incident occurred Aug. 16 at the 10-foot bronze statue at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, across from City Hall. Thousands of demonstrators who had participated in a “Philly Is Charlottesville” march had surrounded the statue and called for its removal.

Sheerin is a teacher at the Julia de Burgos School in North Philadelphia, according to School District payroll records.

The district was aware of the alleged incident, was investigating Sheerin prior to his arrest, and had removed him from the school pending outcome of the probe, said spokesman Kevin Geary. He declined to elaborate, citing personnel matters.

“The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority,” Geary said in a statement. “This is a matter which we take very seriously.”

On his Facebook page, Sheerin thanked supporters who camped out in front of the 19th Police District station while he was being held there.

“I really can’t believe you guys stayed out there all night. It must have been so uncomfortable. But I learned something about discomfort from my first night in a cell. There’s nothing SOFT in a cell!” Sheerin wrote.

He did not respond to several requests for comment via phone, email, text, and a visit by a reporter to his home Saturday night.

Late Saturday morning, Asa Khalif, a leader of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, posted on Facebook: “Our comrade is home safe and sound. This man is a true soldier in the fight for justice. Proud to have him as a friend and ally. Thanks John Sheerin. #Salute”

The hulking Rizzo statue has been the target of protests and renewed calls for its removal that heated up after deadly violence erupted in Charlottesville, Va., in mid-August after a clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

 

The Rizzo statue was defaced Aug. 17 with the message “Black Power” spray-painted in white. City workers power-washed the message from the statue, which has been egged in recent weeks. A mural of Rizzo in South Philadelphia was defaced with spray paint last weekend.

Councilwoman Helen Gym has said that the statue should go, and Mayor Kenney, a fellow Democrat, has said it is time to discuss its future, though he has not taken a public position on removal. Kenney said the city Art Commission would decide the fate of the statue after conducting a hearing.

Activists who want the 2,000-pound statue removed say Rizzo oppressed black citizens as police commissioner in the 1960s and became mayor in part by appealing to the racial fears of white Philadelphians. Others say Rizzo championed the little guy and the statue should remain.

Rizzo was elected in 1971, then a Democrat, and served two terms. He died in July 1991 during a comeback campaign for mayor, running as a Republican against Ed Rendell, the Democratic nominee.

Staff writers Mark Fazlollah and Kristen Graham contributed to this article.