The Police Athletic League of Philadelphia last week removed Frank L. Rizzo’s name from its community center in Port Richmond, saying it wants “to ensure all children and families feel welcome.”
It’s the third example of a public or quasi-public entity distancing itself from the former mayor, whose tenure as police commissioner was marked by a law-and-order attitude manifested in police brutality aimed at black communities, often with little accountability.
City officials on June 3 removed a statue of Rizzo from outside the Municipal Services Building following massive Black Lives Matter protests and a national uprising after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Then, Mural Arts Philadelphia disavowed a mural of the former mayor in the Italian Market, and it was painted over early Sunday.
PAL’s executive committee made its decision, first reported by WHYY, on Thursday.
What makes the move unique is the group’s affiliation with the police department that Rizzo led in the late 1960s and early 1970s before becoming mayor.
“We want there to be as few barriers or concerns on the minds of children or families coming to this PAL center or any other PAL center,” said Ted Qualli, executive director of PAL of Philadelphia. The officials removed the sign that read “Frank L. Rizzo PAL Center” on Thursday shortly after the vote of the executive committee, made up of about 20 community members and business leaders. It’s now called “the 24th PAL," as it’s within the 24th Police District.
The decades-old, nonprofit PAL of Philadelphia works in partnership with a unit of Philadelphia police officers whose goal is to foster relationships with children through sports and education. Each of PAL’s 20 community centers is staffed by an on-duty police officer, and the unit is led by a captain, in much the same structure as other PPD units.
The majority of PAL’s community centers are named either for the district where they fall or the neighborhood in which they are located. A handful are named after individuals as the result of a donation. For example, the Samuel D. Cozen PAL Center in Fairmount is named after the father of Stephen Cozen, a Philadelphia lawyer who spearheaded the development of the center.
In the case of the now-former Rizzo center, Qualli said, there were no naming rights as the result of a donation. The center was called the 24th PAL Center until 1969 — the second year of Rizzo’s tenure as police commissioner — when it was renamed after a renovation.
Rizzo died in 1991. His family this week criticized efforts to remove his name and likeness from the city, and slammed Mayor Jim Kenney, who decided to remove the statue last week after years of delays.
Qualli said PAL had discussed removing Rizzo’s name from the Port Richmond center for years, but decided to follow the city’s lead. Now, he said, it can focus on programming aimed at building relationships between cops and kids.
“The most important thing that happens is inside,” Qualli said. “That’s the key for us.”