In the predawn hours Wednesday, the city unceremoniously removed the controversial statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, who was known for his aggressive tactics policing the black and gay communities of Philadelphia.

Some TV news stations were on the scene to capture the massive artwork being rigged with straps and then wobbled back and forth before being yanked from its base in front of the Municipal Services Building across the street from City Hall.

“The statue is a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others. The treatment of these communities under Mr. Rizzo’s leadership was among the worst periods in Philadelphia’s history,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a written statement.

“The battle for equal rights and justice is still being fought decades later, and our city is still working to erase that legacy. We now need to work for true equity for all Philadelphia residents, and toward healing our communities. The removal of this statue today is but a small step in that process.”

The city said that the statue was being placed in secure storage by the Department of Public Property, “until a plan is developed to donate, relocate, or otherwise dispose of it.” There is no timeline, but “if and when” a plan is developed, it “will be presented to the Philadelphia Art Commission for approval.”

Kenney said that the previous plan to align the statue’s move with the 2021 renovation of Thomas Paine Plaza was a mistake and that “we prioritized efficiency over full recognition of what this statue represented to Black Philadelphians and members of other marginalized communities."

Rizzo had a reputation, which he embraced, as a “law and order” mayor. He was commissioner for the Philadelphia Police Department from 1968 to 1971, when he resigned to run for mayor. He won that election, and served from January 1972 to January 1980.

The statue of Rizzo, by sculptor Zenos Frudakis, was unveiled in 1999.

The Frank Rizzo statue was unveiled on Jan. 1, 1999. On June 3, 2020, it was removed from its place in front of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia.
Charles Fox / Staff photographer
The Frank Rizzo statue was unveiled on Jan. 1, 1999. On June 3, 2020, it was removed from its place in front of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia.

Shortly before 5 a.m., Pennsylvania National Guard troops stood quietly behind metal barricades as TV cameras were lined up on the other side. The only others around were people experiencing homelessness, still sleeping next to the plaza where Rizzo once waved to his beloved city.

Kyle Wright, 52, was coming home to the city from a night shift at the Amazon facility in King of Prussia. He recalled growing up as a black child in the city how he was scared of the police when Rizzo was in charge.

“I remember as a kid when Rizzo was mayor, the city was pretty divided,” Wright said.

Wright said he didn’t really care about the statue one way or the other, but thought it was smart to take it away. And he wondered what might replace it and who deserved to be honored.

Kenney has for the last three years pledged to move the Rizzo statue to another location. Since 2017, calls to move the statue have intensified, kicked off by a national reckoning over monuments to Confederate figures.

The timeline to move the Rizzo statue was accelerated in the last few days as protests over the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed by a police officer, have swept the city and nation. During Saturday’s protests, the statue was graffitied and protesters attempted to set it on fire. The statue was cleaned in the early morning on Sunday, prompting criticism that such a controversial symbol was given priority over the other destruction around Center City.

On Monday, Kenney said at a news conference that he planned to move the statue later in the month, and that he “never liked” it.

“I can’t wait to see it go away,” he said.

Cara Bongiorno brought flowers from her garden to have placed where the former Frank Rizzo statue stood.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
Cara Bongiorno brought flowers from her garden to have placed where the former Frank Rizzo statue stood.

On Wednesday morning, Cara Bongiorno, of Philadelphia, brought flowers from her garden to be placed where the statue had stood.

A Pennsylvania national guardsman accepted the flowers and put them in the statue’s former perch.

“I brought the flowers from my garden to replace anger and hate with beauty,” she said.