The Bristol Liberal Democrats’ view on the Colston statue toppling

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On their website, Bristol Lib Dems have published an article titled “Calling time on Colston statue”. With their permission, we reproduce it here in full below:

Lib Dem candidate and equal rights activist Tara Murray said:

I want people to see beyond this statue being taken down by protesters. This statue was a symbol of how Bristol as a city still venerated a slave merchant that ruined tens of thousands of African lives and made his money off the backs of these slaves to step up the financial and aristocratic ladder of his time. The actions during his lifetime should’ve been rebuked and for a city with such vigour, multiculturalism and diversity it made no sense for us to still have him at the heart of our city. The people felt they needed to do something as there was a lot of uncertainty around this topic. The history will not be lost with him being removed, what happened is ingrained in the history of the slave trade and of the city but the removal of the statue signifies us as a community ending the acceptance of these matters and growing forward as a community. This act has now added a new chapter on the history of Bristol and will hopefully educate all that don’t know and will help more people understand the comparisons from late 17th century racism and racism in today’s world.

Yesterday saw history in the making in our city. 10,000 people, of all races, protested in solidarity that Black Lives Matter in a well-organised and predominantly peaceful event. We would like to thank the organisers of the event for making such an event happen, in such difficult circumstances. Many others, fearing the deadly COVID 19 virus, campaigned from home and ‘took a knee’ to show their support, our thanks also go to them. We completely and unequivocally support Black Lives Matter (BLM), and will do whatever it takes to stamp out racism and reduce racial inequality in all its forms. It has now been two weeks since the brutal execution of George Floyd in America, and people around the world have rallied to the BLM movement to make sure this crime does not go unpunished, or the injustice goes unanswered.

Lib Dem Candidate for Mayor Mary Page said:

Bristol made international news not for the marching of that majority but for the direct actions of some and we would like to offer our support to Avon & Somerset Police in their decision to not directly intervene at the time. It is clear that a heavy-handed police response could not only have resulted in injuries to both protesters and police alike, but, as feared by police, could have further inflamed tensions. In the UK, policing with consent means that trust must be restored in both our policing and democratic structures to ensure individuals have no need to take direct action again.

However, the police do need to investigate if crimes were committed by a tiny percentage of the otherwise peaceful and law-abiding protesters, and the individuals involved should face due process and a jury of their peers, a right which was cruelly taken away from George Floyd.

For too long BAME Bristolians had to walk under a statue glorifying a man who made his fortune by the slave trade. It is estimated that Edward Colston was directly responsible for 84,000 people being sold into slavery, with 19,000 people dying in transit, let alone in bondage. While the city may have inherited assets from his philanthropic efforts, the method in which he made his money means that this man should not be honoured with a statue at the centre of our multicultural city. We cannot change history, instead we must educate people to the horrors of the past, not glorify those who committed unimaginable cruelties. We, like many others cannot fathom why the statue was put up in the first place, and how it has taken so long for it to be removed.

Lib Dem Council Group Leader Gary Hopkins said;

The Bristol Liberal Democrats have supported the removal of the statue for many years and its removal was part of our 2020 Local Election manifesto. Unfortunately, the removal of the statue was never brought before Full Council for us to vote on. If we had been able to get the statue removed in a proper and consultative way, we would not have seen these scenes yesterday. It is regrettable that the removal had to happen this way rather than in a deliberate action by the Council. While the Council was unable to act, the Mayor, who was able to move an arena by diktat, failed to act. It is clear that it is an indictment of our Council and Mayoral processes that they often appear to be ineffective and tied up in bureaucracy.

While we understand the deep levels of frustration people felt, and why they felt it had to come down, we cannot condone the tearing down of the statue.. The symbolism of Edward Colston being thrown into the harbour, just as so many slaves were thrown into the sea, seems fitting. Statues are designed to historically inform those that view them, what is clear is that more people have learnt about Edward Colston and his horrific crimes in the last 24 hours than in the 125 years since the statue has been in place. We share the concern of others though that the statues removal distracts from and risks undermining the BLM message which was the real purpose of the march. As highlighted in the Runnymede report, we must address the problems of racial inequality and modern slavery, and we will work with other local parties and bodies to fight this in any way that we can. We cannot help those that suffered from slavery at Colston’s hand, but we can help those suffering today, from racial inequality, police harassment or modern slavery.

So we mark that history was made yesterday we back Mayor Rees’ calls to fish out the statue, in its battered and bruised state, and exhibit it either in M-Shed’s slavery exhibit, or a purpose built slavery museum, with both the proper context around Colston’s involvement in the horrific crimes of slavery and the context of the statue’s removal as part of the BLM protests. The statue itself has now become part of the new history of Bristol, and should stand next to the saved BLM protest placards, as information and commentary to explain the full history so that future generations can understand the current situation and learn from it.

We believe that with the removal of the statue, we have a real opportunity to create a monument at the heart of our city that we can all be proud of. We call for a consultative process, taking input from all Bristolians, to commission a new statue or monument, which could take many forms. We would be open to any suggestions that creates a memorial to commemorate all the lives lost, to celebrate the equality and freedoms won, to create a beacon of hope that brings us together to unite us not divide us.

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6 Comments

  • Oliver Craven 9th Jun '20 - 3:34pm

    “However, the police do need to investigate if crimes were committed by a tiny percentage of the otherwise peaceful and law-abiding protesters, and the individuals involved should face due process and a jury of their peers, a right which was cruelly taken away from George Floyd.”

    The fact that he didn’t get a trial was not the failure for George Floyd.

    A police officer who had pledged to protect and serve every member of his community knelt on his neck until he was dead. That is the outrage. Do better Bristol Lib Dems.

  • David Evershed 9th Jun '20 - 4:40pm

    If the Lib Dem party still believes in democracy rather than vigilantes roaming the streets, then it should support Bristol police action against the criminals.

    It will be interesting to see which organisations (if any) the criminals are from.

  • I find the sentence that “the police do need to investigate if crimes were committed by a tiny percentage of the otherwise peaceful and law-abiding protesters” very odd and out of place. Surely we should be celebrating demonstrations that proclaim the rights of under-represented and discriminated-against communities, rather than using weasel words about enforcement of the law?

  • Peter Martin 9th Jun '20 - 6:24pm

    “the police do need to investigate if crimes were committed…..”

    Technically I’m sure they were. Just as crimes were committed, also technically, by the suffragettes. If we ask the police to investigate we’ll get a technical answer based on the evidence they have collected and the technical opinion of the CPS.

    B******s to that! To use a well known Lib Dem word. “Was a real crime committed?” is the real question we should be asking. Just as that question should have been asked over 100 years ago in the fight for women’s suffrage.

    The democratic system and legal system has had its chance and failed to do anything. When that happens patience runs out.

  • Overall there is a need to properly understand British history not try to rewrite it. Warts and all.

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