LONDON – For someone who died nearly three centuries ago, Edward Colston has become a symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement in Britain.
The toppling of his statue in Bristol, a city in the southwest of England, on Sunday by anti-racism protesters was greeted with joyous scenes, recognition of the fact that he was a notorious slave trader — a badge of shame in what is one of Britain's most liberal cities.
Demonstrators attached ropes to the statue before pulling it down. Footage of the moments after the statue crashed to the ground saw hundreds, if not thousands, of local Bristolians, in ecstasy.
Images on social media showed protesters then appearing to kneel on the neck of the statue for eight minutes, recalling how George Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25. The statue was then rolled into the nearby Bristol Harbour — again to rapturous scenes.
Police said officers have launched an investigation and are looking for those who “committed an act of criminal damage.”
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said the removal of the statue would “divide” opinion, but added that it was “important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity and make the legacy of today about the future of our city, tackling racism and inequality."
The symbolism of the statue's demise can't be overstated not least because the bridge overlooking its new resting place is named Pero’s Bridge, after Pero Jones — an enslaved man who lived and died in the city in the latter part of the 18th century.
Colston, who was born in 1636 to a wealthy merchant family, became prominently involved in England’s sole official slaving company at the time, the Royal African Company, and Bristol was at the heart of it.