The 2,000-pound, 10-foot-tall statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo is moving, the Kenney administration announced Friday afternoon. No word yet on where the controversial statue, erected in 1999, will be relocated.
Rizzo was a controversial figure in Philadelphia history, lauded by some as a homegrown hero who reformed the city and hated by others who believe he and his policies and actions were bigoted and hateful. This summer was not the first time citizens have debated whether the statue should remain in its current home on Paine Plaza in front of the Municipal Services Building, across the street from City Hall, but on the heels of a violent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the conversation took on a new urgency.
Solomon Jones, a columnist and well-known figure in the African-American community, urged the city to remove the statue from public property. “Under Rizzo’s direction and approval, Philadelphia police officers stripped Black Panthers naked in the street. They beat black children who were demonstrating for black history classes. They broke nightsticks over a black man’s head for running a stop sign,” he wrote in his plea to city officials to consider the impact of Rizzo’s actions on the black community.
[Read the full column: Remove the Rizzo statue from public property]
Philadelphia writer Liz Spikol agreed:
There are Philadelphians who still bear the physical and emotional scars of Rizzo’s reign. To have the statue where it is suggests their pain doesn’t count and implicitly endorses Rizzo’s racist, homophobic agenda and legacy of police brutality. Is this the kind of man we want to honor in our public squares?
[Read the full column: Tear down the Frank Rizzo statue now]
Many others, including columnist Christine Flowers, defended the statue — and the man who inspired it. Flowers wrote, “We cannot pretend that Rizzo did not walk these streets, bringing justice to some and sorrow to others. We cannot reduce the most colorful, consequential Italian to call Philadelphia home to an asterisk. Even if we wanted to make him disappear in a fabricated cloud of oblivion, we couldn’t.”
[Read the full column: Do not rip Frank Rizzo’s presence from our public consciousness]
And columnist Stu Bykofsky posited that if the Rizzo statue had to come down because of his past bad behavior, what does that mean for other icons with tarnished histories? “The Ben Franklin Bridge and Parkway? The man who narcissistically named a stove after himself was a slaveholder. The final nail in his coffin? He was a toxic male womanizer. Outta here,” Bykofsky wrote. “While we’re at it, let’s rename Washington Avenue and tear down that statue in front of the Art Museum. George Washington was a slaveholder. Bye-bye, George.”
[Read the full column: Take down Rizzo statue? Fine, but don’t stop there.]
In a conversation with political columnist John Baer, former Mayor Ed Rendell urged Philadelphians to forget about statues, saying that taking a statue down doesn’t “help the life of a single Philadelphian.” He said if people want to do something, they should go to Harrisburg and protest for a stronger state hate-crimes law.
[Read the full column: Of Rendell, Rizzo, and all this to-do over statues]
Helen Ubiñas wondered if there was a way to harness the infamous statue to create positive change in the city. “Let’s put Big Boy in the middle of North Philly or the million other sections of the city that need even a fraction of this scrutiny,” she wrote. “Or, pick one of the other spots where young men of color are shot dead in this city without much more than a shrug. Maybe then people will show up in droves to places that really need that kind of public attention.”
[Read the full column: Since Rizzo statue is eating all the attention, let’s use it to harness the fury]
Another idea for the statue: Put it in a museum, suggested national columnist Will Bunch:
Don’t throw the Bambino out with the trash. Move the statue to a museum — one of our many fine existing ones, or, if someone has deep pockets, a new (and candid) Museum of Philadelphia Race Relations. And then surround the Rizzo monument with exhibits, with pictures that will also show the African Americans (and the others) who were whomped upside the head or bitten by vicious police dogs during Rizzo’s reign of terror. And make sure that every Philadelphia high school kid gets on a bus, gets the grand tour, and then returns to the classroom to talk about what this all has to do with why black kids still don’t have textbooks or why they can’t get a good-paying union job after high school all these years later. Because a Philadelphia that doesn’t remember its true past is condemned to repeat it, again and again.
[Read the full column: That Rizzo statue is history! (No, seriously…put it in a museum)]
Of course, many, including our Editorial Board, argue that regardless of what happens to the Rizzo statue, this conversation is so much bigger than one man.
The debate is about the complicated nature of the simple bronze renderings of now-dead people — and the ideas they stood for. A better set of questions might be: Who’s a hero? Who gets to decide? What do we do with statues when they outlive their times by decades, if not centuries?
[Read the full editorial: Should Frank Rizzo statue stay or go? That’s the wrong question to ask.]
While the fate of the statue has been decided — at least partially — the debate about his legacy will surely march on.