Update: This latest Rizzo vandalism very well could have been politically motivated. On Saturday, just a few hours after the blemishes were discovered, Philly Antifa group Militants Against Fascist Amerika posted two photos of the defacement, along with a statement followed by the slogans “LONG LIVE THE MOVE 9. LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA. FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL.”
Over the weekend, the Frank Rizzo mural in the Italian Market was defaced. Again.
The three-story high depiction of the former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner — a controversial figure whose policies many viewed as racist or fascist — is the most commonly vandalized of all Philadelphia murals, according to Mural Arts director Jane Golden, who called the frequency of graffiti there “an aberration.”
“I used to say it was defaced at least once a year,” Golden told Billy Penn. “Maybe now I’ll have to bump that up to twice a year.”
It was Saturday morning, right at the start of the annual two day Italian Market Festival, when shop owners and neighborhood residents first noticed the latest instance, per Alex Newman, a web designer who lives across the street. Four large splatters of black paint currently mar the image, splattered randomly as if tossed in a balloon or shot from a paintball gun. One landed on Rizzo’s left cheek, another sits on his upper lip, and two are on his left jacket lapel.
The splotches are particularly troublesome because of how high up they are located and because of the fine spray surrounding each mark. Golden estimated it would take Mural Arts at least two days to retouch the image, at a not insignificant cost. Crews will start work as soon as the rain clears up, potentially as soon as Tuesday of this week.
“If I thought I was going to have a good weekend, that went out the window” after hearing about the incident, she said. “It gave me total agita.”
In July 2016, right before the Democratic National Convention arrived, the Rizzo mural was defaced with the words “Fuck Racist Pigs / End Cops 4eva” scrawled across the bottom. In that case, the motives of the taggers were relatively clear. But in cases like this, where they almost resemble gunshots, “it’s hard to know whether it’s political commentary or just vandalism, someone who thinks it’s funny,” Golden said.
Mural Arts has filed a police report, but there’s not much the cops can do unless there’s an eye witness, she noted. Asked if perhaps installing a security camera would be an effective deterrent, she agreed that it potentially could be worthwhile.
“It’s very frustrating, and not funny. Please, whoever you are, stop doing this!” Golden pleaded. “We’re just nice people trying to save the world through art.”