On Friday, a group of Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia placed a giant Ku Klux Klan mask over the head of a statue of Frank Rizzo, a former city mayor, less than two weeks after a petition was started to have the statue taken down.
Asa Khalif, one of the BLM representatives, explained to Philadelphia Magazine his reasoning for putting a KKK mask on the Rizzo statue:
He was a racist bigot. He was the king of bigots, and this is his crown, the KKK mask, and I think it’s a hell of a match.
The inspiration for Khalif's actions seems to have been an online petition started 11 days prior by another Black Lives Matter activist, Erica Mines. Mines's petition, #FrankRizzoDown, details some of Rizzo's controversial conduct during his tenure as Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor, citing it as grounds to have the statue removed:
According to the petition:
Frank Rizzo's racist relationship towards Philadelphia's African-American community has always been one of violence, devastation and despair. Two of his most violent legacies to date involve members of Philadelphia's local chapter of the Black Panther Party being publicly stripped. The display of their naked bodies appeared on the Daily News' front page in August 1970, while the organization was preparing for a Peoples Revolution Convention to address police violence in the city and throughout the country.
Frank Rizzo publicly made racist comments about Philadelphia's African-American communities; he openly used the term "niggers" when referencing black Philadelphians. Rizzo actively supported the historically racist views, values, and practices of Philadelphia's Police Department, which has left a lasting legacy of brutality and violence against the African American citizens of the city.
The removal of this statue would be the first step in acknowledging Rizzo's crimes against the African-American community. It would be a much needed step towards truth and reconciliation, and holding police accountable for misconduct. This is something that is long overdue in this city. The removal of the Rizzo statue would also remove the constant reminder that our city actively supported a racist demagogue and then immortalized him as someone worthy of honor.
As of 10:00 a.m. on Monday, #FrankRizzoDown currently has 1,164 of the 2,000 signatures needed. Meanwhile, another petition was started to keep the statue up, which argues that Rizzo was quite the opposite of a racist and a bigot:
Rizzo was personally responsible for promoting several African-American officers during his tenure as commissioner. As deputy police commissioner, he ended practices that had kept African American officers from manning patrol cars, after Philadelphia's first African-American police captain, James Reaves, had accused the department of being racially biased. It was during Rizzo's tenure as deputy commissioner that black and white officers assigned to the city's African American neighborhoods worked in tandem in an attempt to reduce friction between civilians and police forces. As commissioner, Rizzo's department had one of the largest percentages of African American officers among large U.S. police departments, with 20% in 1968, at a time when other departments had little if any success in recruiting African-Americans.
Right now, the pro-statue petition has 3,121 of 5,000 necessary signatures. Jim Kenney, Philadelphia's current mayor, made clear that a decision regarding the Rizzo statue would not be made lightly.
"The late Mayor Rizzo means something, both good and bad, to many more Philadelphians than that," Kenney said in a statement. "I'm happy to have a dialogue about the future of Rizzo's likeness in relation to its location, but that dialogue won't be started and finished over a few days and a few hundred signatures."
Local police eventually took the mask off the statue, but it appears the controversy surounding Rizzo's likeness is far from over.