PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Frank Rizzo statue in Center City was removed overnight after protesters vandalized it and tried to tear the controversial symbol down themselves. The statue, which has stood on the steps of the Municipal Services Building for more than two decades, was removed around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Crews used a crane to lift and remove the 2,000-pound, 10-foot tall bronze statue. It was removed under the watchful eyes of the National Guard and very few other onlookers.
"It's a moment that many want to see, so I guess I can represent the face of many that want to see him go," one witness said.
Another woman said, "It should have been done, years ago."
The process took about an hour.
Many were happy to see it go, including Mayor Jim Kenney.
"This is the beginning of the healing process in our city," Kenney said. "I think it's a victory for all of us. Personally, I was not a fan of the statue."
Unveiled in early 1999, the statue was a gift to the city paid for by Rizzo's family and friends, but for years it has been a target of vandalism. The former police commissioner and the two-term mayor was seen as a controversial figure in Philadelphia.
The South Philly native is remembered by supporters as a devoted outspoken public servant who championed the city.
"He was the police commissioner during the race riots of the 1960s. Our city didn't burn when every other city did," Frank Rizzo's grandson, Joe Mastronardo, said.
Mastronardo says his grandfather devoted his life to the city and his family was never made aware the statue was being taken.
"Just moving that statue in the middle of the night, symbolically shows you what kind of man Jim Kenney is," Mastronardo said.
But Rizzo's critics, many of them people of color, say his approach to policing and governing was corrupt and racist.
The decision comes after the statue was once again vandalized this weekend after protests over the officer-involved death of George Floyd turned into chaos. Protesters tried to topple the statue and set it on fire.
"When we first announced our decision to move the statue, we chose to do so in a way that was cost-effective, by linking it to the pending renovation of Thomas Paine Plaza," the mayor said in a statement Wednesday morning. "That choice was a mistake—we prioritized efficiency over full recognition of what this statue represented to Black Philadelphians and members of other marginalized communities. The continued display of the statue has understandably enraged and hurt many Philadelphians, including those protesting the heinous murders of George Floyd and too many others. I have seen and heard their anguish. This statue now no longer stands in front of a building that serves all Philadelphians."
The statue will be placed in secure storage by the Department of Public Property until a plan is developed to donate, relocate, or otherwise dispose of it. But the Rizzo family is hoping they will be able to reclaim it themselves.
Meantime, the city has another curfew that starts at 6 p.m.
CBS3's Jan Carabeo and Matt Petrillo contributed to this report.
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