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05-30-20-george-floyd-black-lives-matter-protest-rizzo

On May 30, protesters vandalized the statue of Frank Rizzo, burning an American flag that they had attached to it.

Credit: Chase Sutton

The city of Philadelphia removed the statue of former Philadelphia Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo on June 3, days after protesters attempted to topple it themselves on May 30.

Rizzo served as the city's police commissioner from 1968 to 1971, and was mayor from 1972 to 1980. Protesters who attempted to tear down the statue during anti-police brutality protests say the statue, erected in front of City Hall in 1999, stood as a symbol of discrimination and police brutality. 

The statue's sculptor, Zenos Frudakis, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Fine Arts from Penn in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Frudakis said when he understood how the statue was painful to Black residents of Philadelphia, he realized "it had to come down."

“I don't want to hurt people,” Frudakis said. “It's also kind of a distraction right now. Now that it's not there, people can concentrate on rebuilding the communities and properties that were burned, and working constructively on changing things from the top down.”

History and Sociology of Science Lecturer Paul Wolff Mitchell said Rizzo’s tough-on-crime stance authorized police brutality against Philadelphia’s Black residents. 

During his run for a third mayoral term, Rizzo told Philadelphians to "vote white." When Rizzo was police commissioner, the United States Department of Justice opened a 1979 civil rights lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department for shooting non-violent citizens and beating handcuffed people.

“It's not just that he was a racist; it’s that he was representative of the kind of police brutality that the murder of George Floyd has galvanized this response to,” Mitchell said. “There's more work to be done in thinking about these other aspects of Philadelphia's racist past, and the ways in which that's been memorialized and ingrained into our collective landscape, but Rizzo is representative of this matter of direct and immediate concern.”

When Frudakis was first approached about sculpting the statue, he was aware of Rizzo's career, but said he rationalized taking the commission because he needed the job.

“It's hard to get your first job as a sculptor, a big job,” Frudakis said. “When I would try to get jobs after getting out of Penn, people would ask, ‘Well what have you done already?,’ because they won't take a chance on someone who doesn’t have the experience.”

He said, however, that the commission may have hindered his future prospects.

“I don’t know if it helped my career,” Frudakis said. “There were people in Philadelphia who assumed it was negative for me.”

In August 2016, Black Lives Matter protesters hung a Ku Klux Klan hood on the Rizzo statue and created a petition, prompting Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to consider removing it. In November 2017, Kenney announced that he would move the statue, but did not say where or when.

Frudakis said he was not in favor of moving the statue in 2017 because he was proud of his work at the time. He suggested that the city consider using the money it would have used to relocate the statue to instead commission new sculptures of Black people to stand beside it in front of City Hall. 

He said he realized the statue had to be moved, however, when he saw people vandalizing the sculpture during protests this week against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

“It pains me, but it’s not about me at this point,” Frudakis said. “I hope a lot of good will come out of this. I feel that there’s some change in the air.”

Mitchell said Rizzo's legacy of discrimination against LGBTQ and Black Philadelphians during his time as mayor and police commissioner does not reflect the values of Philadelphia.

“Because memorials and monuments are ultimately reflections of what we value, the way that we collectively remember history and the way that we collectively aspire to a future, it’s important that we have monuments in the city that reflect our shared values,” he said.

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