The commanding officer of the police district covering a large part of South Philadelphia — including Marconi Plaza, the site of ongoing confrontations among residents over a Christopher Columbus statue — has been transferred to another assignment, officials said Tuesday.
The Police Department characterized the reassignment of Capt. Louis Campione as “one of several command changes that took place” Monday. They declined to say what the other changes were or what Campione’s new role would be.
Since Saturday, residents have gathered at the Columbus statue that gazes over Broad Street to either celebrate or denounce the Italian explorer, whose place in history has become part of the ongoing national reckoning over longstanding issues including police brutality, racism, and discrimination.
Those supportive of Columbus have said they are protecting the statue from vandalism or removal, and some have stood guard with baseball bats, metal poles, or even guns. Counterprotesters, meanwhile, have decried Columbus — who historians say seized land and enslaved or brutalized natives — as a symbol of oppression.
The gatherings have led to scuffles between members of opposing groups, and police have occasionally had to separate the two sides. Some counterprotesters, citing videos taken at the scene, said police at times stood by when Columbus supporters began shoving or punching them, or burning them with lighters or cigarettes.
In a video posted to Twitter on Saturday by the left-wing news organization Unicorn Riot, Campione can be seen telling the person filming the video to leave for aggravating a volatile situation and “inciting a riot.”
A police spokesperson denied that Campione’s transfer was related to the ongoing conflict at Marconi Plaza.
“These command changes were not related to any specific incident,” Officer Eric McLaurin said in an email.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said Campione was told he was moved because he lives in the district. Generally, the department does not assign commanders to the communities where they live.
(Another commander — Capt. Adam Friedman of the Eighth District in Northeast Philadelphia — was also transferred Monday and told it was because he lived in the district he commanded.)
Campione has lived for years in the South Philadelphia district where he spent the past decade as captain. Reached by phone Tuesday, he said he could not comment.
The police officers union criticized the transfer of Campione, calling the 43-year veteran of the department “the gold standard” of commanders, and saying he was well-respected by police and residents.
In a statement, the union said: “The mayor and police leadership are more concerned with appeasing the anarchist mobs descending upon our city and are less concerned about our citizens, our neighborhoods and the overall public safety of our great city.”
A straight-laced commander, Campione was known as “Father Lou” by some, and officers have credited him with working closely with community organizations and churches during his decade as a police leader in the neighborhood.
Some residents supportive of Campione called his transfer a “a spiteful, vindictive move.” In a show of support, more than 100 people gathered at Marconi Plaza on Tuesday afternoon to protest his transfer.
A parked car played the Frankie Valli hits “Grease” and “Sherry.” Some people brought Italian flags and wore Trump campaign hats. There was a formidable police presence and crews worked to cover the Columbus statue by building a wooden box around it.
Among the people holding signs with Campione’s picture was Debbie Lombardi, who said she came out to support the police captain and thought the reassignment was unfair.
Lombardi, who said she was a 62-year resident of South Philadelphia, said she met Campione at a town hall meeting in October and said he was “always supporting the community.”
Carla Carpenter, 66, who lives nearby, said Campione was known for keeping an eye on crime and making sure officers patrolled the streets. “He knows the neighborhood, and that means a lot,” she said. She said she believed his transfer was political.
The confrontations in South Philadelphia came two weeks after Kenney’s administration was criticized when police in Fishtown allowed — and even seemed to embrace — a group of mostly white men to roam the streets with baseball bats, hammers, and a hatchet. The men said they were defending the neighborhood against possible looting; two people were assaulted during the demonstration.
Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw later said the department had made a mistake in how it handled the group, including letting them remain on the street after the city’s mandatory curfew.
An online petition to remove the commanding officer of the 26th District, Capt. William Fisher, has since garnered more than 35,000 signatures.
Following the confrontations over the Columbus statue, Kenney on Monday sent a letter to the Philadelphia Art Commission asking for the start of a public process to consider whether it should be removed.
“A public process will allow for all viewpoints — especially those of indigenous people whose ancestors suffered under the rule of European colonizers — to be considered,” the mayor wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. “With this, I hope the tensions in Marconi Plaza can end.”