Slave trader's statue torn down in UK amid global inequality protests

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 7 June 2020 21:54 GMT

Protesters throw statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally, in memory of George Floyd who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis. PA via Reuters

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UK protesters topple statue of slave trader in Black Lives Matter protest

By Amber Milne

LONDON, June 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A statue to a 17th century British slave trader was torn down on Sunday during an anti-racism protest in Bristol in southwest England amid calls for other historic reminders of the slave trade to be removed.

The move sparked debate among Britons on whether the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston was vandalism or an historic moment drawing attention to Britain's role in the slave trade.

Opposition Labour peer Andrew Adonis said Britain had been "too slow" in removing statues of slave traders and "imperial criminals", while former finance minister Sajid Javid of the ruling Conservative party said it was criminal damage.

"I grew up in Bristol. I detest how Edward Colston profited from the slave trade. But, THIS IS NOT OK," Javid said in a statement.

"If Bristolians wants to remove a monument it should be done democratically - not by criminal damage."

Footage posted on social media showed Black Lives Matter demonstrators cheering as they tore down the statue and rolled it into a river after largely peaceful weekend protests in UK cities including London, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Colston, who was born in Bristol in 1636, was a merchant and member of parliament whose wealth was made mainly by transporting about 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas, with many dying on route.

The bronze statue, erected in 1895, has been a focal point for protests in the past and a petition demanding its removal had recently garnered over 11,000 signatures.

"As someone who lives in Bristol, Edward Colston's name is everywhere. The city had painted him into every brick of its architecture. It's about time that changed," British actor Miltos Yerolemou from TV series "Game of Thrones" tweeted.

"Today was a good day. The first of many, much needed changes."

There have been protests globally over racial justice after the death of George Floyd, a black American, in police custody last month. He died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

This weekend, protests swept Europe in capital cities including Rome, Copenhagen, Budapest and Madrid and across Britain in solidarity with U.S. protesters.

In London, where tens of thousands gathered, one banner read: "UK guilty too".

The demonstrations have reignited debate about Britain's role in the slave trade and cities have since looked to remove monuments to slavers and educate the public on the country's history.

Glasgow in Scotland is considering changing the name of streets celebrating slave merchants, including Buchanan Street, Ingram Street, and Virginia Street.

Activists last week used black plaques to rename streets after historical figures like black seamstress Rosa Parks who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, as well as victims of police violence like Sheku Bayoh who died in police custody five years ago in Fife, Scotland.

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(Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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