Of the multitude who participated in the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue last summer, four were identified by the police and charged with criminal damage. On Monday 25th January they attended their hearing at Bristol Magistrates Court.
An online event was held to show solidarity with ‘The Colston Four’ as they have come to be known. Four speakers addressed the room and an 8 minutes silence was observed.
At its height, some 168 people were present.
From the speakers we learned about Edward Colston himself, his life and his business in the slave trade. We heard of the 85,000 people forcibly enslaved and transported across the Atlantic at his behest. The toppling of his statue was not, as some claim, the erasure of history. It was, rather, the bringing to light of those parts of history that some would rather leave buried.
As one speaker, El, from Black Community Rising, said: “toppling [the stature] was an act of self-defence” for the black community, defence of their bodies and of their identities.
It is often argued by reactionaries that racism is no longer an issue in the UK. That it would go away if only certain do-gooder lefties would simply stop talking about it. The falsity of this view was grotesquely demonstrated when someone launched a racist attack during a pre-recorded speech from Dr Shawn Sobers. The attacher was able to write a racist slur across the screen for all to see.
The host quickly stopped the video and continued with only audio instead.
That someone would see fit to do this, even as Dr Sobers spoke of building a better and more just future together, is testament to the legacies of racism that still exist, and to the lingering influence of Colston’s ghost upon Bristol’s politics.
The event gave a special resonance to Dr Sobers’ words: “the conditions that allow racist acts to continue must be challenged, not just the acts themselves.” To say, as some do, that racism is not an issue anymore is to perpetuate precisely the conditions that allow racist acts to take place today.
Today’s event in support of the Colston Four gave renewed inspiration to all those who see why protest and action are needed. And why challenging and removing statues like that of Edward Colston is necessary.