Frank Rizzo Mural in Italian Market Tagged With Anti-Police Graffiti

The mural of Philly's controversial former mayor is one of the most vandalized in the city.

Rizzo vandalism

The Frank Rizzo mural was vandalized again in recent days.| Photo by Jared Brey

In 2012, the Italian Market’s giant mural of former Mayor Frank Rizzo was tagged with graffiti calling him a fascist. Today there’s a new tag that says, “F*** Racist Pigs. End Cops 4eva.”

Rizzo was mayor of Philadelphia from 1972 until 1980. Prior to that, he spent four years as Police Commissioner. His entire career was controversial, and many people—not just the painters who recently vandalized the mural—believe he had racist and fascist tendencies.

Rizzo was the prototypical “tough” cop. Once, he told police officers to “get their black asses!” during a raid on a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee protest, according to Rizzo biography The Cop Who Would Be King. (The wording of Rizzo’s statement has been disputed.) Rizzo also said during his re-election bid in the mid-1970s that he would be even tougher on crime and his perceived adversaries in his second term, promising to “make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.”

The legacy of Frank Rizzo has been reexamined recently, as many see Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as following the former mayor’s “law-and-order” playbook by promising to be tough on crime and stoking racial anxieties among white voters. In his acceptance speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, Trump promised that his presidency would be focused on national security and cracking down on crime. He also described undocumented immigrants as a major threat to American security.

Additionally, Trump referred to a massive increase in crime nationwide that isn’t actually occurring. But it’s true that relationships between police and communities of color are currently tense. Videos of police officers shooting black men—some armed and some unarmed—have sparked protests in cities across the country. In other cases, cops have been murdered in the street, as five officers were in Dallas earlier this month while at a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

For a good primer on Rizzo’s legacy, read this piece by Jake Blumgart. For a good primer on the connections between Rizzo and Trump, see this other piece by Jake Blumgart.

The mural of Frank Rizzo was completed in 1991 by artist Diane Keller, and it is one of the most frequently vandalized pieces in the Mural Arts Program’s collection. It gets vandalized roughly once every five years, according to Jane Golden, director of the Mural Arts Program. Golden said it’s almost always anti-Rizzo graffiti, and it happens whenever “something is in the air” politically or culturally that makes people think about Rizzo again. She’s not surprised it happened right before the Democratic National Convention comes to Philly. The Mural Arts Program has close to 4,000 pieces of art, Golden said, and they rarely get vandalized.

“Frank Rizzo is an aberration,” she said.

John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, didn’t immediately return a phone message.

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