Black Lives Matter marchers in Bristol tore down a statue of philanthropist and parliamentarian Edward Colston and threw it the harbour over his ties to the slave trade.
Edward Colston, who lived from 1636 to 1721, was something of a British Carnegie in his day, using his fortune to fund almshouses for the poor, hospitals, schools, and other charitable enterprises in Bristol, London, and the wider country. He was celebrated as “the brightest Example of Christian Liberality that this Age has produced both for the extensiveness of his Charities and for the prudent Regulation of them” after his death.
Colston earned much of his fortune trading items such as fruit, fabrics, and wine. Sadly, however, the Merchant Venturer lived in a time when slavery was considered a legitimate business, not just in Europe but in Africa as well, and part of his fortune was earned through ties to the slave trade — particularly during his time as a member of the board of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692.
Colston has therefore become a hate figure for the left in recent years, with activists in Bristol demanding that their former MP, commemorated as a “wise and virtuous son of the city” by his memorial plaque, be removed from any places of honour and remembered only as an evil man.
This happened a few moments ago.
The Edward Colston statue has been pulled down. pic.twitter.com/E0BUxVHonc
— BBC Radio Bristol (@bbcrb) June 7, 2020
This long campaign culminated in his 19th-century statue being ripped down by a mob, who were ostensibly protesting the death of George Floyd on the other side of the Atlantic despite the anti-coronavirus regulations against mass gatherings, on Sunday.
The mob then pounced on and ritually beat the fallen statue, vandalised it with spray-paint, dragged it to the harbour and symbolically drowned it — while police looked on, idle.
Protesters against systemic racism in Bristol, United Kingdom, defaced and tore down a bronze statue depicting slave trader Edward Colston, rolling through the streets and then throwing it into the river to a wave of applause. https://t.co/cc86EDQZHq pic.twitter.com/DFJ6M2a9BX
— ABC News (@ABC) June 7, 2020
The authorities, such as the are, initially appeared to surrender totally to both the illegal protest and the vandalism, with Superintendent Andy Bennett describing Colston as “a historical figure who has caused the black community quite a lot of angst” and saying “I do understand why it’s happened, it’s very symbolic”.
“We made a very tactical decision that to stop them from doing the act may have caused further disorder, and we decided the safest [thing] to do, in terms of our policing tactics, was to allow it to take place,” he explained.
“[T]he right thing to do was just to allow it to happen, because what we did not want is tension,” he added, telling reporters he had “no regrets”.
The official statement put out by Bristol mayor Marvin Rees was equally permissive, with the Labour politician saying: “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.”
However, it now appears there will be an investigation into the statue’s destruction, perhaps due to pressure from government ministers such as Priti Patel and Kit Malthouse unhappy with the vandalism.
Bristol Police not intervening in statue being pulled down ‘tactical decision’ as it risked ‘further disorder’.
So if you threaten a big enough disorder you can do what you want now?
— Michael Heaver (@Michael_Heaver) June 7, 2020