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Frank Rizzo mural defaced in South Philly

Vandals have struck again amid calls to remove memorials to the former police commissioner and mayor.

A police car is parked in front of the Frank Rizzo mural Saturday morning after it was vandalized in South Philadelphia.
A police car is parked in front of the Frank Rizzo mural Saturday morning after it was vandalized in South Philadelphia.Read moreDavid Swanson / Staff Photographer

The most defaced face in Philadelphia took it right on the nose this time.

Less than two days after the words Black Power were painted on the Frank Rizzo statue at the Municipal Services Building, the Italian Market mural honoring the former police commissioner and mayor was vandalized overnight.

Dried white paint is streaked down Rizzo's nose and the words Kill Killer Cops and RIP David are spray-painted on his suit — believed to be a reference to David Jones, who was shot and killed by police in June.

"I'm disgusted by this," said lifelong South Philadelphia resident Brian Ercolani, while taking in the scene at Ninth and Montrose Streets on Saturday morning. "It's a cowardly act to come here in the middle of the night and do this. It almost feels personal to me."

Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesman, said that officers noticed a group of men defacing the mural with paint around 3 a.m. Saturday. Officers chased them on foot, apprehending one suspect and recovering spray-paint cans and masks, Gripp said.

The Rizzo mural is considered to be the most vandalized mural in the city, but Ercolani said, "This is the worst I've seen."

The statue of Rizzo stands just over a mile to the north. On Friday, Wali Rahman was arrested and accused of vandalizing the 10-foot-tall monument at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

Police said Rahman, 40, of Germantown, spray-painted Black Power onto Rizzo's chest and arm around 11 p.m. Thursday. Video of the act recorded by Fox29 cameras was used to identify Rahman, who was a mayoral candidate in 2011.

In addition to allegedly spray-painting the statue, Rahman is accused of writing "The Black community should be their own Police" on the steps beneath the statue at Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall.

The statue and mural have become the focus of renewed criticism in the aftermath of last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Va. Protesters and some city officials have said the works represent an era in which a tough-talking, law-and-order mayor discriminated against minorities and homosexuals. On Wednesday evening, thousands of demonstrators surrounded the statue and called for its removal. A man was ticketed for throwing eggs at it earlier that day.

Duke University on Saturday removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, days after it was vandalized amid a national debate about monuments to the Confederacy. Another statue of Lee was at the heart of the Charlottesville protest.

Councilwoman Helen Gym, who has called for moving the Rizzo statue, tweeted Saturday that the statue and mural "have long been the most vandalized in the city. It is not new and points to how divisive his legacy remains."

Back at the Italian Market on Saturday morning, Point Breeze resident John Coates said he wasn't surprised by the latest vandalism.

"I've grown accustomed to this," Coates said. "It's an interesting time to have this up in what is a pretty diverse neighborhood these days."

Coates said it may be time for the city to consider moving the Rizzo statue and perhaps get rid of the mural.

"Looks like they're already trying to get rid of it," said Coates' friend Evan Parish Matthews.

"People don't want it up anymore," said Matthews, of South Philadelphia. "The legacy of Frank Rizzo brutalizes the residents of this neighborhood."

Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, wrote a column last week for the Inquirer and saying that it was time to have a public conversation about what to do with the Rizzo mural.

Reached Saturday afternoon, Golden sounded exasperated. Her organization just finished the credits for the last touch-up, after vandals apparently shot Rizzo's face with black paintballs in May.

"This has just become so divisive," Golden said. "My hope is that there is some way to use this and the statue as a catalyst for conversations that contribute to positive change."

Golden described Saturday's damage as "extensive," likely caused by a bottle or balloon full of white paint. Restoring the mural won't be cheap.

"We've had a lot of complicated projects in the life of Mural Arts," Golden said, "but this is one of the more complex ones."