PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Police on Friday arrested a man suspected of spray-painting the words “black power” on the statue of a former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner that critics say should come down.
The vandalism comes after calls from some activists and politicians to tear down the statue of Frank Rizzo in the aftermath of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked by the planned removal of a Confederate statue.
Police aren’t releasing the name of the man arrested until formal charges are filed.
Philadelphia has struggled to reconcile the legacy of Rizzo, who served as mayor from 1972 to 1980 and died in 1991. His fans remember him as a devoted public servant unafraid to speak his mind. His detractors saw his police force as corrupt and brutal and said Rizzo alienated minorities both as police commissioner and mayor.
On Monday, Democratic Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted that the Rizzo statue should be removed, and Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday it’s the “right time” for a conversation about the statue.
“While the mayor doesn’t personally like the statue, his opinion isn’t the only one that counts,” his spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said Friday. She said the city must first seek public input on the statue and go from there.
Asa Khalif, a Black Lives Matter activist, said Friday his group is hoping politicians will move it, and has no issue with it being re-installed on private property.
“If they don’t have the courage to remove this racially charged and hateful statue, then the people will take it down themselves,” he said.
He said his group is giving the city until the end of September to reach a conclusion.
“The only conversation we should be having is about the date and time when it will be removed,” he said.
A TV news reporter captured video of a man spray-painting the words on the statue overnight, and later images on social media showed two women covering the graffiti with a towel. By early Friday, workers had power-washed it away.
The bronze statue, unveiled in 1999, depicts a waving Rizzo descending the steps of a government building. It was donated to the city.
A man from Maplewood, New Jersey, was charged on Wednesday with disorderly conduct for throwing eggs at the statue.
Calls to remove the statue aren’t new. A year ago, an anti-police brutality group launched an online petition to take it down.
Erica Mines, of the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice that started the earlier petition, said Friday she is thankful that there is a national conversation happening around statues and monuments “that represent white supremacy and oppression.” But she sees removing the Rizzo statue as one small step in fighting against what she calls historic oppression in Philadelphia.
There are dueling petitions calling for keeping or removing the statue.
Rizzo’s 74-year-old son, former City Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., said earlier this week his father defended all law-abiding Philadelphians, regardless of race.
“He loved this city,” he said.
He told The Philadelphia Inquirer many former police officers contacted him with their concerns the statue was at risk.
A police spokesman said Friday the department can’t discuss whether there were any plans to have police protection around the statue.
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