The horrifying violence in Charlottesville, Va., has had significant reverberations throughout the country in the past few days.
Shocking images of neo-Nazis marching with swastika armbands and giving Hitler salutes have jarred many Americans into beginning to glimpse the reality of the rampant racism plaguing our country. The murder of a protester and the deaths of two police officers have highlighted just how quickly organized hate masquerading as “free speech” can turn fatal. And conversations are being held — and in some cases bypassed by activists — about dismantling monuments to some of the darkest foundations upon which our country was built.
Protesters in Durham, N.C., toppled a Civil War statue, and countless officials in cities across the country are finally beginning to address the presence of such monuments on their streets. Here in Philadelphia, a statue of Mayor Frank Rizzo has long drawn the ire of progressives. After several years as the commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, Rizzo helmed the city in the 1970s, and has come to be remembered as one of Philadelphia’s most controversial and polarizing government officials.
To some, Rizzo’s stance on crime and safety was “tough” — yet his was the same style that has enabled Donald Trump to denigrate millions of Americans and immigrants in the name of “law and order.” Rizzo’s relationship with people of color was fraught to say the least — among his many problematic moves, he led a strip-search raid of the Black Panthers, reportedly used racist language and oversaw the handling of a 1978 incident involving MOVE that many said was racially inflammatory.
His relationship with LGBTs wasn’t much better. Rizzo frequently dropped anti-LGBT epithets and during his time with the police department, personally led raids on LGBT clubs.
Many consider his leadership in Philadelphia to be among the darkest points in the city’s recent history — yet Rizzo is honored with a 10-foot statue in his likeness across from City Hall. In the wake of Charlottesville, there has been a renewed call for the statue’s removal, an effort that has been ongoing for years.
Those arguing against the removal of statues like Rizzo’s often decry such movements as trying to revise history. There’s a very big difference between recognizing and accepting history and celebrating it. There are countless moments, people and places in Philadelphia history that should be celebrated. Frank Rizzo is not among them.
The Rizzo statue must go.