Rizzo mural defaced, 1999

The Frank Rizzo mural in South Philadelphia has been vandalized for so long that I was still shooting film when I made these pictures as police were investigating an incident near the end of the last millennium.

According to my caption written that day in October, 1999: “It appeared that light bulbs, bottles, and Christmas ornaments full of paint were thrown at the mural.”

Rizzo was the mayor of the Philadelphia through most of the 1970s, had previously been police commissioner for about four years and his reign seems to have been remembered very differently by some groups than others.

Rizzo died while running for mayor once again in 1991, just a few months before I moved to Philadelphia but neither side can let him go, even though two-thirds of today’s residents were not yet born when he was first elected.

Recent local and national events have raised the question once again this week about what this mural — as well as a Frank Rizzo statue near city hall — mean to Philadelphians and if they should be removed.

But what if instead of focusing on symbolism, we could actually address the constantly simmering, sometimes steaming relationship between police and communities in Philadelphia?

Instead of endlessly investigating each other, defending themselves, vandalizing public art and arresting suspects, what if everyone could just sit down and agree to listen to each other for once?

Why can’t we focus on peacemaking instead of exacerbating a conflict which won’t be resolved with paint, eggs or handcuffs or by preserving, tearing down or compromising on depictions of a mayor who was born nearly 100 years ago?

I have never walked the walk of a police officer nor suffered police brutality, but my career in photojournalism offered me a pretty good look at both groups and it strikes me as idiotic to think that stirring the pot with no strategy for outcomes will lead us anywhere we want to go.

Most of us want peace. But we better get to work before someone gets hurt.