The fall of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol has sparked fierce debate across the country and the globe. The statue was captured during the Bristol Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday 7th of June, and subsequently submerged in the River Avon - the very river in which Colston drowned 18,000 slaves – as a sort of poetic justice.
It isn’t hard to see why Edward Colston was the object of the protestors’ dissent on Sunday. Whilst Colston is celebrated as a former MP and a major financial contributor to Bristol, he made his fortune through human suffering – specifically, the suffering of black people. Between 1672 and 1689, Colston’s ships are believed to have transported around 80,000 men, women and children from Africa to the Americas. Closely shackled together, hundreds of enslaved people were forced to remain in their own filth. Disease, suicide and murder claimed between 10 and 20 percent of the enslaved during the 8 week voyage to the Americas. Edward Colston lined his pockets with the large-scale suffering of black people, yet the plaque on his statue describes him as “one of the most virtuous, and wise sons of the city”.
Despite the agony Colston caused, the removal of his statue has sparked divisive debate. The Home Secretary has condemned the demonstrators’ actions as ‘utterly disgraceful’, and, whilst 61% of Bristolians (in a survey by local news website, BristolLive) expressed that they wanted the statue to be removed, 19% of these said that they did not agree with the method used to remove it by protestors.
Many have proposed that Colston’s statue should have instead been removed through ‘democratic means’ - but these statements are inherently contradictory. These peaceful alternatives which public figures are urging anti-racist demonstrators to adopt have already been exhausted for over 20 years in Bristol. The group Countering Colston has been peacefully campaigning and educating Bristolians about the need to decolonise the city since the turn of this century. Indeed, the original petition to remove the statue of Edward Colston was launched over 6 years ago. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, called for protests to come to a “peaceful resolution”, but this peace has already been tried and ignored.