Before moving to South Wales, we lived in Bristol, which yesterday took centre stage in the Black Lives Matter protests, here in the UK. Banksy, the anonymous Bristol graffiti street artist released a powerful artwork commenting on the issue, and Protesters pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, the Bristol slave trader and dumped it the harbour near Pero’s bridge, named after a slave named after John Pinney.
This act raises numerous issues. Should 10,000 be demonstrating in the midst of a pandemic when gatherings of more than six people is prohibited ? The police did not intervene during the toppling of the statue and rolling it a considerable distance to the harbour. Most protestors wore masks and gloves, but social distancing was obviously impossible.
Of course, there are arguments for and against this act of criminal damage which is being investigated by the police. These are summarised below, and the full Bristol Post article can be found here.
For : The Colston statue should never have been a public monument. It’s history could have been understood in a museum. The elevation of a slave trader clashed badly with our civic identity. A philanthropy derived from crimes against humanity is as hollow as the statue itself.
Against : Regardless of feelings, Colston plays an important part in the history of Bristol and by no means someone to be celebrated. We cannot have people attempting to blank history simply on the basis that they don’t like it – otherwise, where does it stop?
The Home Secretary, Pritti Patel said : “I think that is utterly disgraceful. That speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have become a distraction from the cause people are actually protesting about. “It is a completely unacceptable act. Sheer vandalism and disorder are completely unacceptable”.
Colston’s name permeates the City of Bristol, including Colston Hall, Colston Tower, Colston road and avenue, Schools and almshouses. There is a stained glass window commemorating Colston in Bristol Cathedral. Are all these to be expunged as well ? What about Whiteladies road, which has been the address of the BBC for over 50 years without any concerns raised? What about Blackboy Hill ? There is also a well established family cycle shop canned Blackboy Hill cycles located at 189 Whiteladies road. Are all these to be renamed ?
Banksy torches US flag in new artwork in support of Black Lives Matter protests :