[OP-ED]: A Defining Moment For Philadelphia – Remove Rizzo Statue
The August arrest of Brandon Templin for throwing eggs on the statute of Frank Rizzo dispelled a myth that is comforting for some: opposition to that monument honoring Philadelphia’s controversial former mayor is just a ‘black thing.’
Templin is among many people of various colors and creeds that oppose having this statue located on city owned property because of Rizzo’s racist record during his separate tenures as head of police (1968-1971) and mayor (1972-1980).
Last week Templin entered a Philadelphia courtroom to face twin charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief for splattering four eggs on the Rizzo statute. When this 26-year-old faced a judge he had a group of black lawyers providing free representation.
Templin walked out of that courtroom with an order from the judge to complete four-hours of community service – that if successfully completed, will erase the record of his arrest.
An ugly reality embedded in America’s racial conundrum is that the racists honored by monuments located on taxpayer funded property are not only Confederates – those persons who participated in that 19th Century traitorous rebellion against the U.S. government in large part to preserve the then enslavement of blacks.
Certainly Rizzo wasn’t an original Confederate. He became a Philadelphia policeman 78-years after the end of America’s bloody Civil War in 1865.
But many of Rizzo’s practices as a policeman, Police Commissioner and mayor evidenced racism as odious as that practiced by Confederates.
Yes, Rizzo did good things like appointing the first black to head the Police Department’s homicide unit.
But Rizzo’s reflexive police wrong-or-right defensive attitude and his head-cracking approach to ‘Law-&-Order’ had a racially disproportionate impact.
A key plaintiff in a late 1960s federal lawsuit attacking brutality in Philly’s Police Department was a Puerto Rican, a co-founder of this city’s Young Lords branch.
During Rizzo’s 1970s mayoral tenure, Puerto Ricans, like blacks, bore the brunt of a reign of police brutality where abuses by police, particularly fatal shootings, were so outrageous that terrorism triggered an unprecedented federal government lawsuit in 1979 that for the first time charged a sitting mayor (Rizzo) with actively aiding-&-abetting police brutality.
Many who support Rizzo and/or support keeping his statue in front of a city office building across from City Hall downplay Rizzo-backed police brutality as simply a product of the times not reflective of systemic racism. This stance willfully dismisses the fact that Rizzo’s racist practices extended beyond backing abusive policing to injecting prejudice into many policies/practices from public education to public health.
Rizzo, for example, staunchly backed whites in a South Philly community who opposed construction of housing because they didn’t want blacks in ‘their neighborhood.’ Rizzo’s backing of that bigotry cost City Hall over one million dollars in legal related costs.
Further, Rizzo lavished over $13-million in federal home improvement funds on those bigots – while denying similar funding to black and Latino communities. That discriminatory denial defined racism.
That Frank Rizzo statue does not deserve a place on city owned property.