By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
8.12.16: Philadelphia – (National): Neither the Black Lives Matter activist who today used a step ladder to put a mock Ku Klux Klan hood atop the statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Mr. Frank Rizzo, nor Mr. Rizzo’s grandson, who called on a reporter’s phone during the direct action to condemn the protester’s behavior, are willing to meet to discuss relocating the bronze sculpture from Center City to a place less public.
Ms. Rue Landau, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, today in an exclusive interview with Techbook Online said her agency is willing to facilitate a dialogue with leaders of both the Italian-American and African-American community to build consensus around the future of the statue. But Mr. Joseph Mastronardo, who remembers his grandfather as a lovable man and who grew up unaware of the racial tension linked to his legacy, isn’t open to the conversation and he thinks Black Lives Matter, and Mr. Asa Khalif – who this morning suggested the KKK hood he placed on Mr. Rizzo’s head was the appropriate crown for the “King of racist bigots” – is out of control.
“This idea should be shot down,” Mr. Mastronardo, who watched the demonstration with his mother on a cellphone as it was happening in front of 1515 JFK Blvd, told me this afternoon. “‘When we saw the hood be put on the statue… it was disgusting; it’s disappointing to see stuff like this.”
The conversation around this issue began with a petition to remove the statue launched last month by activist Ms. Erica Mines of the Philly Coalition for R.E.A.L Justice. Mayor Jim Kenney, who the week of the Democratic National Convention used the Rizzo-era as a checkpoint to measure how far policing in the City has come, told me he’s willing to review the petition which Mr. Mastronardo, who remembers the statue being dedicated on New Years Day of 1999, called “unfounded.”
A bus tour of Philadelphia this week was given to hundreds of attendees of a conference organized by the International Association of Human Rights Agencies, where Ms. Landau serves as a board member. When the group approached the Frank Rizzo statue, Ms. Landau had to explain to outsiders that the former Mayor “governed with an iron first and put fear in the lives of many Philadelphians.”
Also, this week at the conference during a panel discussion entitled ‘From Selma to Stonewall,’ Mr. Rizzo, who was once the Police Commissioner, came up again; this time by a Latino panelist who questioned why the City allowed the prominent placement of a statue depicting a man who was known to brutalize (young) people.
“I think the statue has been on the hearts and minds of many Philadelphians for years… it makes sense that this issue would come up,” Ms. Landau, who informed me that the Mayor this week lamented the fact that there’s no statue of an African-American on public property, said.
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While Mr. Khalif today yelled his argument in front of the statue, saying it should have never been placed where it is, passer-byers weighed in, and, as expected, Black and White Philadelphians saw things differently. One white woman, who looked to be in her late 50s or early 60s and who claimed to once live around the corner from Mr. Rizzo on Rosewood Street, called Mr. Khalif’s action disrespectful and said the statue “should not be relocated.” A middle aged Black man watched Mr. Khalif for a few moments before cheering “Rizzo has got to go!”
The shouting from Mr. Khalif, who wants the sculpture removed not relocated, continued for quite a while before numerous cops on bikes moved in to protect the statue and allow for the hood to be removed. Mr. Mastronardo felt as if the first cop who arrived on the scene should have put an end to the perceived defacement of public property.
I inquired of several cops whether or not what Mr. Khalif did was illegal, and none responded. Civil Affairs officers, who are usually the first to respond to protests, were in this case the last. Mr. Khalif, in his debut direct action since resigning this week from the Philly Coalition for R.E.A.L Justice, asserted that he didn’t break any laws rather he only hurt the feelings of “these pigs that are mad that their boss is no longer alive.”
“I saw, and listened, to the words that he choose to use in public; he doesn’t seem reasonable,” Mr. Mastronardo, offering up his explanation for not be willing to converse further with Mr. Khalif, said.
Mr. Khalif described the brief phone call from Mr. Mastronardo as confirming the “hateful spirit of the Rizzo family.” Mr. Mastronardo, who remembers his first question to Mr. Khalif being “Do you have a job?,” said that the conversation went downhill after the initial inquiry.
Mr. Mastronardo, who was born in 1982 and recalls Mr. Rizzo dying when he was nine years old, said he knows for a fact that his grandfather wasn’t a racist, and is offended that Mayor Kenney would even consider the petition – “it’s laughable,” he said, adding that no one will ever build a statue of Mayor Kenney and that he’s unknown outside of Philadelphia.
As for Mr. Khalif, whose cousin was killed by a Philadelphia police officer in December of 2014, there’s no changing his mind as to who Mr. Rizzo was: “Every King deserves his crown,” he said, pointing to the white sheet he had spent minutes fitting on the statue’s head.
Mr. Mastronardo said Mr. Khalif is reflective of the segment of the population that’s out to cause hate, divisiveness and trouble.
“He’s a real let down for humanity,” said Mr. Mastronardo, “He shouldn’t be running around calling my grandfather the King bigot.”
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