“Crown,” Philadelphia’s newest series of Black Lives Matter murals, now adorns three sides of the Municipal Services Building, the city’s most prominent government building. Facing City Hall, it is surrounded by Thomas Paine Plaza, a major site for large demonstrations. Currently, it is an oasis where homeless people congregate.
The people depicted in the beautiful murals are fighting a system built and maintained by the white-supremacist businesses and politicians that occupy the surrounding private property storefronts and corporate edifices. The installation of the murals at such a central location reflects the strength of the movement, which opposes the violence of the capitalist state.
Until June 2020, the plaza contained a 10-foot-high bronze likeness of former Mayor Frank Rizzo, who was legendary for brutal policing and openly racist politics. A campaign to remove his statue began during anti-police brutality protests following the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
People’s victory: Racist Rizzo comes down
The effort to remove the Rizzo statue came to fruition when activists defaced the statue during a May 30, 2020, demonstration of thousands protesting the police murder of George Floyd. After dragging their heels for years, the city quickly removed the statue in the dark of night June 3, 2020.
Artist Russell Craig designed “Crown” as a response to last summer’s protests against police brutality. It is a tribute to the ongoing fight to end systemic racism and inequality. The first mural in the series was dedicated August 2020. It is a photomontage of people of all ages, nationalities and genders, with their fists raised and masks on their faces arranged in a ring shape (a corona). Defiance, hope and determination fill the faces, which are surrounded by names of people who were fatally shot by police.
“Crown: Freedom” and “Crown: Medusa,” the two newest murals, were dedicated by the city on May 11. “Crown: Freedom” pays tribute to Black women activists including freedom fighters Ramona Africa and Pam Africa, who are with the MOVE organization.
Going left from Pam Africa on the mural are YahNé Ndgo, who is with Blacks Lives Matter Philadelphia; educator Kezia Ridgeway; Krystal Strong, an organizer with Philadelphia Black Radical Collective; Ajeenah Amir, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement; underground radio personality Sajda “Purple” Blackwell; and Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors Consortium to address COVID-19’s deadly impact on Black communities.
“Crown: Medusa” highlights Black, Indigenous and people of color activists whose work addresses developing collective movements to heal intergenerational trauma. Like the first mural, images on “Crown: Medusa” and “Crown: Freedom” are also set against a background of names of victims of police murders.
During the May 11 dedication, with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney present, Pam Africa used the opportunity to call for the release of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.