Black Lives Matter protesters have torn down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and dumped it in the harbour – as demonstrations continue to sweep Britain following the death of George Floyd in America.
Footage shows demonstrators, packed closely together – despite social distancing guidelines, heaving the metal monument down with ropes before cheering and dancing around it, with many placing their knees on the fallen statue as it lay on the ground.
The statue, which had been in place since 1895, has been a subject of controversy in recent years. The most recent petition to remove it garnered more than 11,000 signatures.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has condemned protesters’ decision to force it down, declaring on Twitter: ‘This is not OK’. Home Secretary Priti Patel branded the act as ‘utterly disgraceful’.
Along with the tobacco trade, Colston’s wealth helped to develop Bristol in the 17th century. He used a lot of his riches, accrued from his extensive slave trading, to build schools and almshouses in his home city.
An estimated 10,000 protesters had gathered in Bristol on Sunday to march through the city. Avon and Somerset police have said that although the protests are a breach in lockdown regulations, they understand why people want to gather.
Speaking after the demonstration, superintendent Andy Bennett vowed there would be an investigation into the ‘act of criminal damage,’ near Bristol Harbourside, where slave ships once docked centuries ago.
Will Taylor, 29, who attended Sunday’s demonstration in the heart of Bristol said: ‘Colston’s statue was a constant reminder that Britain would rather uphold it’s idea of a euro centric history, than acknowledge the stories of the victims who suffered for his success.
‘Today, those victims were given their voice back. We can either rebuild together or let our history tighten it’s noose around our gasping throats.’
Fellow protester Ryah Baker 23 added: ‘Despite it being an act of ‘criminal damage’, it was powerful to see the statue get pulled down and black men stand its place.
‘I remember when paint was thrown on the statue a few years ago and have since found it challenging seeing a statue of a slave owner being celebrated in such a way. This is particularly as I find Bristol a welcoming and diverse city.
‘While this has been a significant part of the the BLM protest in Bristol, this should not undermine the hard work of the organisers. It was a well executed event which brought people together and was incredibly powerful.’
Protesters and police in London have clashed in Whitehall, with fireworks being thrown on the ground and one officer being treated for what appeared to be a cut to the face.
Witnesses claim police have been attacked with bottles and traffic cones, while footage shows some protesters trying to calm the crowds.
In Parliament Square nearby, a statue of Winston Churchill was defaced, with the words ‘was a racist’ written under the wartime prime minister’s name.
Across the country the crowds have been seen marching close together – despite repeated warnings for the public to avoid protests and obey social distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has condemned the removal of the Colston statue, writing: ‘I grew up in Bristol. I detest how Edward Colston profited from the slave trade. But, THIS IS NOT OK. If Bristolians wants to remove a monument it should be done democratically – not by criminal damage.’
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage wrote: ‘If Boris Johnson won’t lead and stand up for the country, as its symbols are trashed, then people will start taking it into their own hands. Full on race riots are now possible. Show leadership and fast.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel told Sky News said: ‘I think that is utterly disgraceful. That speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have become a distraction from the cause that people are actually protesting.
‘Sheer vandalism and disorder is completely unacceptable and its right the police follow up on that and make sure justice is undertaken.’
Responding to Ms Patel’s comments, ex-England footballer Gary Lineker tweeted: ‘It’s utterly disgraceful that a statue to a slaver survived as long as it did.’
Labour MPs tweeted in solidarity with protesters who pulled down the statue.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, wrote: ‘If statues of confederates who fought a war for slavery & white supremacy shld come down then why not this one?
‘Someone responsible for immeasurable blood & suffering. We’ll never solve structural racism till we get to grips with our history in all its complexity.’
Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, quote-tweeted a video of the statue being thrown into the harbour, captioning her post with a clenched fist emoji and the words ‘This caused me to exhale’.
Westworld and Casino Royale actor Jeffrey Wright wrote: ‘Gorgeous. F*** him. Imagine the human beings who met a similar fate during the middle passage…like 19,300 of the 84,500+ African men, women & children purchased, branded and forced onto Royal African Company (his company) ships from 1680-1692.’
Bishop of Bristol Viv Faul wrote: ‘After today’s march for justice for black people and the fall of the statue of Colston, let’s repent of the evils of our slave trading past, the racism of so many years and the institutional oppression which is still so powerful and let’s build Bristol as a city of hope for all.’
Labour peer Andrew Adonis tweeted: ‘I hope no action is taken against those who removed mass slave trader Edward Colston’s statue. This should have happened decades ago. His name has been removed from other monuments in Bristol. No way should we be celebrating slave traders today.’
Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga said one of the main problems the statue caused was that people did not understand why it was a source of upset for many in the city.
‘This is a city that is about 14% BAME with a statue of somebody who was not just a slave trader, he was involved in the Royal Africa Company, the company that trafficked more people into slavery than any in British history,’ he told BBC News.
‘The fact that it has not been seen as a problem for such a long time, that so many people are confused as to why the statue offends and upsets so many people, has been the problem.’
Protests in the US have seen Confederate statues toppled or removed during recent rallies. Among the monuments to be torn down was a 129-year-old statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham, which was removed on Saturday.
Supt Bennett said: ‘The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Bristol today was attended by an estimated 10,000 people.
‘The vast majority of those who came to voice their concerns about racial inequality and injustice did so peacefully and respectfully.
‘The ongoing coronavirus pandemic added a different dynamic to what was always going to be a challenging policing operation.
‘And I’d like to thank the organisers for their efforts to encourage demonstrators to follow Government guidance – a message which many clearly took on board, doing their best to socially distance despite the large crowds.
‘Keeping the public safe was our greatest priority and thankfully there were no instances of disorder and no arrests were made.
‘However, there was a small group of people who clearly committed an act of criminal damage in pulling down a statue near Bristol Harbourside.
‘An investigation will be carried out to identify those involved and we’re already collating footage of the incident.
‘I’d like to thank our partners at Bristol City Council for helping us to ensure this was a safe event for all who attended.’
Colston donated money to causes in and around Bristol before his death in 1721 – including to the city’s churches, founded almshouses, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School, and founding a religious school for boys.
According to Historic England, his involvement in the slave trade was the source of much of the money which he bestowed in the city.
Campaign group Countering Colston has called for an end to Bristol ‘publicly celebrating’ the controversial figure, and for the city to recognise the ‘true history of transatlantic slavery, colonialism and exploitation’.
An 11,000-strong petition said the statue of Colston had ‘no place’ in Bristol’s ‘beloved’ city centre.
In a victory for campaigners, Colston Hall – Bristol’s largest concert hall – announced in 2017 it would be re-branding, while a school formerly known as Colston’s Primary School was renamed last year.
Protests across the country showed little room for social distancing, though some protesters were wearing masks as they took to the streets this weekend. In Glasgow protesters kept their distance as they clapped during a demonstration.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is ‘undoubtedly a risk’ that there will be an increase in coronavirus cases following the protests.
He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday he supported the protesters’ arguments, but urged: ‘Please don’t gather in groups of more than six people because there is also a pandemic that we must address and control.
‘And so we’ve got to make the argument, we’ve got to make further progress, on top of the significant progress that has been made in recent years, but we’ve got to do it in a way that’s safe and controls the virus.’
Yesterday’s protests were the latest in a series of rallies in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck in Minneapolis.
The M6 was closed as protesters walked down the carriageway.
One eyewitness said there were around 100 people taking part and that they were chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ over and over again.
Many on the motorway going the other way got out of their cars to watch the protests which began at around 5pm.
One motorist said the crowd blocked off the road with cones before police arrived on scene to manage the traffic.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Henry Martin and Luke Andrews