Protesters in Bristol, southwest England used ropes to rip down the monument of Edward Colston, a local merchant who made the bulk of his fortune from the slave trade in the late 1600s. His statue had stood in the city since 1895, but its presence in the multicultural city had become increasingly controversial.
Crowds cheered and knelt on the statue after it was toppled, before pushing it to Bristol’s harbor and throwing it into the water.
Many have celebrated the act, and video of the statue falling has gone viral in the UK. But some, including leading figures in Boris Johnson’s government, have condemned the protesters.
“We live in a country where other people feel they are losing a grip on their history and identity and, I think it’s an error,” Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, told the BBC on Monday. “But many people feel the Colston statue represented a sense of Bristol, so we as a city now need to have a conversation.”
The UK’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was less amenable, telling Sky News it was “utterly disgraceful” that the statue was taken down.
Police in the city said an investigation is underway and officers are collected footage of the incident. But Superintendent Andy Bennett told the BBC that while he was “disappointed” by the act, “I do understand why it’s happened.” He added that officers made the tactical decision to allow the toppling to take place, rather than risk unrest by stopping it.
Commemorations of colonial-era figures and slave traders are common across the UK. In Bristol, several streets, schools and pubs are named after Colston, who is a prominent figure in the city’s history but whose legacy has been increasingly questioned by newer generations of Bristolians.
Huge crowds at London protests
Bristol’s protests were far form the only demonstrations on Sunday.
In the UK capital, largely peaceful protests turned heated in the evening on Sunday as activists and police clashed near Downing Street. Officers were seen pushing and using their batons, with some even punching and grabbing protesters as they approached the line of police.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson later claimed that the “demonstrations have been subverted by thuggery” and said he will hold those responsible to account.
Some defied coronavirus lockdowns and warnings from politicians to do so. Many protesters wore masks during the weekend’s rallies, while some carried messages that racial inequality is also a public health crisis.