A petition to keep the city’s Frank Rizzo statue is gaining steam.
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, more than 18,000 people had signed the petition, which was posted on change.org by South Philly resident Marc Ferguson. That’s about 15,000 more signatures than a petition calling for the statue’s removal has gathered.
Ferguson told CBS3 he created the petition on Tuesday, one day after Councilwoman Helen Gym called for the removal of the former mayor and police commissioner’s statue. The statue’s front-and-center presence (it’s located outside the Municipal Services building near City Hall) has drawn increased criticism in the wake of the Charlottesville violence, which was spurred by white supremacists and neo-Nazis who sought to preserve a Confederate statue.
Since the rally, officials around the country have announced plans to remove controversial – and mostly Confederate – monuments. In Philly, those who want to take down the Rizzo statue cite his brutish over-policing of the city’s African American community, among other things, which you can read about here, here and here.
But Ferguson and others who champion Rizzo (a support base that includes many white residents from blue-collar neighborhoods) see him as a tough-on-crime politician (similarly to how some view President Donald Trump) and celebrate him as the first Italian-American mayor. Like those fighting to keep contentious statues around the country, they claim removing his monument is akin to destroying his (albeit dubious) history and legacy.
Ferguson told CBS3 that he doesn’t see the Rizzo statue as a “symbol of hate” amidst the country’s “divided relations.”
However, he said he’s open to having the statue moved – maybe to somewhere like the Italian Market, which is already home to a mural dedicated to Rizzo. Several others, including the statue’s creator, have recently suggested the same, and some have pushed to have it sent to a museum, where it could function more as a piece of educational history.
Gym, who’s received a slew of threats and racist messages since calling for the statue’s removal, said earlier this week that the statue is “living large in the center of our city,” a placement that indicates that the city still upholds the same divisive values and practices Rizzo is known for.
All around the country, we're fighting to remove the monuments to slavery & racism. Philly, we have work to do. Take the Rizzo statue down.
— Helen Gym (@HelenGymAtLarge) August 14, 2017
Since the debate around Rizzo’s statue has snowballed this week, the city has fenced in the monument and ramped up policing in the area, including during a rally against white supremacy on Wednesday night, when activists and others against pushed for its removal. On Wednesday morning, a man was arrested for egging the statue.
The city said this week that “now is the time” to have a conversation about removing the statue. To take down the statue, the city would have to submit a proposal for its removal (it’s a piece of public art of public property) to the nine-member Art Commission, which approved the monument years ago.
City spokesperson Lauren Hitt told Billy Penn that officials plan to seek public input in the near future before before submitting a proposal.
We’re willing to bet some of the people who signed the petition in favor of the statue will be sure to weigh in.
Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.