Slave trader statue toppled and pushed into harbour by Bristol anti-racism protesters

7 June 2020, 15:22

Anti-racism protesters tear down controversial statue of slave trader in Bristol

By Megan White

A statue of slave trader Edward Colston has been toppled by anti-racism protesters in Bristol and pushed into the harbour.

The Grade-II listed bronze statue, which used to stand on Colston Avenue, was pulled down on Sunday by Black Lives Matter protesters.

There were cheers as the controversial monument was pulled down by a group, who had scaled it before attaching ropes to bring it crashing to the ground.

It was then rolled to the nearby harbour and pushed into the water as people cheered along the stretch of water.

Bristol City Council said banners left around the base of where the statue stood until earlier today will be preserved for display in the city's M Shed museum.

Avon and Somerset Police later said the incident was "an act of criminal damage" and they were launching an investigation.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the toppling of the statue was "utterly disgraceful".

The statue was toppled by anti-racism protesters on Sunday
The statue was toppled by anti-racism protesters on Sunday. Picture: Twitter

The merchant has long been associated with the city, but in recent years attempts have been made to remove his name from history, including the renaming of the Colston Hall venue, because of his past involvement in the slave trade.

He made his fortune through slave trading and became an official of the Royal African Company, which transported slaves to the US.

Thousands of people marched through the city centre to protest against the death of George Floyd.

A crowd of at least 5,000 people packed into the city's College Green area to hear from speakers and hold an eight-minute silence to represent the time Mr Floyd was filmed on the ground during an arrest in Minnesota with a policeman kneeling on his neck.

Many protesters worse masks and gloves, but the majority were unable to adhere to the two-metre social distancing guidance and were pressed against one another in the city's narrow streets.

The march, which ended at Castle Park, did not see any violence.

Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said in a statement: "Today's protest saw around 10,000 people take to the city streets to stand against injustice and racism, with many more joining in at home by Taking the Knee.

"Thank you to everyone who took part peacefully and respected the need to protect their communities as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

"I know the removal of the Colston Statue will divide opinion, as the statue itself has done for many years. However it's important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity

"Let's make the legacy of today about the future of our city, tackling racism and inequality. I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it."

Ms Patel said: "I think that is utterly disgraceful and that speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause in which people are actually protesting about and trying to empathise and sympathise with.

"That is completely an unacceptable act and that speaks to the vandalism - again as we saw yesterday in London - but sheer vandalism and disorder completely is unacceptable.

The statue was toppled into the harbour
The statue was toppled into the harbour. Picture: PA

"It's right actually the police follow up on that and make sure that justice is undertaken with those individuals who are responsible for such disorderly and lawless behaviour."

Local MP Thangam Debonnaire also called for the statue to be taken down.

Speaking in 2018, she said: "Having statues of people who oppressed us is not a good thing to be saying to black people in this city.

"Edward Colston did many things, but he was not completely defined by that, and it's an important part of saying to black people in the city 'you are welcome'.

The monument was controversial, and there have been calls for it to be removed in the past
The monument was controversial, and there have been calls for it to be removed in the past. Picture: PA

"I think it actually provides a good opportunity for us as a city to talk about that history."

A petition was launched earlier this week calling for its removal, saying the statue had “no place there.”

Samantha Gould, who started the campaign, wrote: “Edward Colston was a Bristol-born English slave trader, merchant and Member of Parliament. Much of his wealth was acquired through the trade and exploitation of slaves.

The moment it hit the water
The moment it hit the water. Picture: PA

“Yet we celebrate and commemorate him with a statue in our beloved city centre. He has no place there.

“Following the events in Charlottesville and the announcement that the Colston Hall will be renamed, it seems appropriate that his statue also be removed.

“Whilst history shouldn't be forgotten, these people who benefited from the enslavement of individuals do not deserve the honour of a statue. This should be reserved for those who bring about positive change and who fight for peace, equality and social unity.

“We hereby encourage Bristol city council to remove the Edward Colston Statue. He does not represent our diverse and multicultural city.”