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Slave trader statue toppled as anti-racism protests sweep the UK

19th Jun 2020
Slave trader statue toppled as anti-racism protests sweep the UK

Black Lives Matter protest in London June 6, London (Credit: Socialist Appeal/Flickr)

Elham Asaad Buaras

For the second consecutive weekend, tens of thousands of demonstrators attended Black Lives Matter protests across the UK, including one in Bristol where a statue of a slave trader was pulled down.

Demonstrations were organised after George Floyd died in Minneapolis, US, when a white police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes. Various other protests have also been held in the US and all over the world.

In Bristol, demonstrators attached a rope to the statue of slave trader Edward Colston on Colston Avenue before pulling it to the ground as crowds cheered. They then rolled it down the street before pushing it into Bristol Harbour.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, branded the act “utterly disgraceful” and that “acts of public disorder that have actually now become a distraction from the cause in which people are protesting about.”

Supt Andy Bennett of Somerset and Avon Police, said his force is investigating into criminal damage. Bennett did, however, say he understood that Colston was “a historical figure that’s caused the Black community quite a lot of angst over the last couple of years”, adding,“Whilst I am disappointed, that people would damage one of our statues. I do understand why it’s happened, it’s very symbolic. ”

Bennett hinted that prosecutions will take place only if Bristol City Council wishes to press charges. The Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said, “it’s important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity.”

The statue, erected in 1895, has long been a focal point for anger at the city’s role in the slave trade and the continued commemoration of those who were involved in it. A petition to remove it had garnered more than 11,000 signatures.

It said, “Whilst history shouldn’t be forgotten, these people, who benefited from the enslavement of individuals, do not deserve the honour of a statue.” Colston’s company transported more than 100,000 slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas between 1672 and 1689, cramming them into ships to maximise profit.

The slaves, including women and children, were branded on the chest with the company’s initials, RAC. Unhygienic conditions, dehydration, dysentery and scurvy killed more than 20,000 during the crossings and their bodies were thrown overboard.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced a commission to review and improve diversity across London’s public realm to ensure the capital’s landmarks suitably reflect London’s achievements and diversity. In London, thousands gathered outside the US Embassy in solidarity with demonstrators in the US.

An anti-racism protest was held at Parliament Square in Westminster. The statue of Winston Churchill in the square was graffitied with “ racist” written below. At around 8 pm, there were clashes on Whitehall between police and a crowd of protesters throwing objects including bottles and traffic cones.

According to the Met Police, a total of 36 people were arrested in the capital on June 7, for offences including violent disorder, criminal damage and assaulting police.

Warwickshire Police said the southbound carriage of the M6 was closed for an hour from 6 pm while pedestrian protesters blocked it at junction 3 before they “headed to Coventry at junction 2.” It is estimated around 2,000 people joined a demonstration in Cardiff on June 6.
Protesters filed into Bute Park in the Welsh capital’s city centre holding placards to hear from speakers addressing injustices black people face across the world.

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