Councilwoman Helen Gym and community leaders are calling for a community dialogue on the future of the Frank Rizzo statue located at Thomas Paine Plaza in Center City.
The 10-foot-high statue of the former police chief, who later served as mayor of the city from 1972 until 1980, has long been a source of controversy since it was unveiled in 1999.
“Our monuments and public art don’t just reflect our past; they tell the story of what values we choose to honor and uplift,” Gym said in a news release.
“There should be no doubt that the Frank Rizzo statue simply does not belong at the footsteps of City Hall and our municipal government, which exists to serve and protect all Philadelphians. We must proceed with a dialogue on his rightful place in history peacefully and respectfully,” the councilwoman added.
“There will be a city-led public process for moving the Rizzo statue to a location better reflective of its complicated history. Monuments are not about permanence; they move and change as cities evolve,” she said.
Last summer, activists again called for the statue’s removal before Philadelphia welcomed thousands of visitors for the Democratic National Convention.
On Monday, civil rights and community leaders who have long advocated for the Rizzo statue’s relocation expressed the urgent need for a renewed public dialogue on the former mayor’s divisive legacy, the painful history of structural racism in Philadelphia and the path forward toward a city in which all people are made to feel welcome and included in public spaces.
“As a youth growing up in South Philadelphia, I was part of the first generation of students of color who were bussed into majority white schools, said Rev. Gregory Holston, executive director of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild and senior pastor at the Janes Memorial United Methodist Church.
“I would urge those who saw only the good side of Frank Rizzo because of the color of their skin to strive for empathy with those of us who only saw the bad side of Frank Rizzo because of the color of our skin,” he said.
“Under Frank Rizzo, Black youth like myself were viewed by the city government that was supposed to protect us as criminals,” Holston recalled. “And we, as a city, have been trying to reject the legacy of his policies and actions ever since. A renewed conversation about the placement of his statue is in order.”
“Our work represents years of pushing back against the policies that Frank Rizzo embodied, and that’s why the statue’s placement isn’t appropriate,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the NAACP-Philadelphia chapter.
“As people of conscience and faith, it is our responsibility to uproot racism and build a nation based on the liberation of all people,” said Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari of Kol Tzedek Synagogue. “Our monuments too often fail to reflect our proudly multicultural and multiracial city. It’s time to re-envision our public spaces so they tell a more inclusive, redemptive story.”
Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, established to symbolize for our nation the principles of justice, equity, and inclusion, said the Rev. Jay Broadnax of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia
“It runs counter to our ideals and goals to have, in our central square, a statue dedicated to a man whose leadership exacerbated racial tensions and escalated police brutality to the point where they were nationally reputed,” he said. “Philadelphia’s institutions including law enforcement work every day to realize a more just city. Those hard-fought efforts deserve to be reflected in our central square. Therefore, I believe that Frank Rizzo’s statue must be removed from Thomas Paine Plaza.”