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Protest held on College Green against prosecution of those involved in fall of Colston statute

Small crowds gathered this evening on College Green to protest against potential prosecutions for those involved in the toppling of Edward Colston statue after the arrest of a 24-year-old man on 1 July.

By Robin Connolly, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Small crowds gathered this evening on College Green to protest against potential prosecutions for those involved in the toppling of Edward Colston statue after the arrest of a 24-year-old man on 1 July.

The 17th century statue of Edward Colston was pulled down and dumped into the harbourside at Bristol’s Black Lives Matter protest on 7 June.

A 24-year-old man has been released under investigation, after being arrested last week.

24-year-old man arrested over toppling of Edward Colston statue

The aim of this evening's demonstration was to hear from organisations and people within the community, who spoke about about how those involved with the removal of the statue should now be treated and what can be done to move forward.

'Colston was the real criminal' banner | Epigram / Robin Connolly

Abbie, a representative speaking on behalf of Stand up to Racism Bristol – the group that organised the event – told Epigram that ‘we hope that if we, as a people, put pressure on our council and our government that can make a difference.’

She described the ‘heritage trauma’ suffered by Black people within Bristol who had to pass the statue of Colston every day, arguing that what’s ‘more vandalising’ than the removal of the statue itself is the ‘everlasting imprint’ the Colston statue placed on Black people’s lives.

‘What’s more terrorising is having [the statue], rather than pulling it down. The majority of this city were happy to see it go.’

In conclusion on this, Abbie explained how she felt that the toppling of the statue ‘[wasn't] vandalism – it’s democracy.’

Speakers at the event included Liza Bilal, representing All Black Lives, Christine Townsend, from campaign group Countering Colston and local poet Lawrence Hoo.

A statement from councillor Cleo Lake, ex-Lord Mayor of Bristol, was also read aloud.

The statement from Councillor Lake said that ‘it is not and will not be in the public interest for anyone to be prosecuted over this and I urge the Mayor to speak out against the potential prosecutions and, furthermore support, long-standing calls for a dedicated museum and adequate memorial.’

During the evening, there were also chants of ‘Colston was the real criminal,’ and a banner adorning the same message was held at the front.

The event ended with the crowd taking to the knee for two minutes, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.

Protestors took to the knee | Epigram / Robin Connolly

Bella, a History student going into her third year at the University of Bristol, told Epigram she got involved with the event and was there to ‘show support with the people who might get prosecuted for tearing down the Colston statue and throwing it in the river.’

She added: ‘the statue coming down was the people of Bristol exercising what they’ve been trying to do for years – having to have a slave trader in their public space was nothing but an insult to BAME communities.’

There was a small police presence throughout the evening, both on on foot around College Green and on horseback within the vicinity.

Six people identified to have been involved with the toppling of the Colston statue ‘voluntarily attended a police station to be interviewed,’ and a 24-year-old man from Eastleigh, Hampshire has been arrested.

Such people were identified through reviews of CCTV footage around the area where the statue previously stood.

11 of 18 suspects the police have isolated images of are still to be ascertained.

Avon and Somerset police issued a renewed appeal this morning at 10am as ‘part of Colston statue damage inquiry.’

The renewed appeal states that a gallery of photos released by the police of those they’re looking for has been viewed 22,515 times and that they have received 59 related phone calls.

The police have stated that their enquiry is ongoing.

The description on the Facebook event for today’s actions stated: ‘The tearing down of the statue during the Black Lives Matter protest on June 7th was not a criminal act.

‘It was an expression of anger not only with the killing of George Floyd but also at the complacency of Bristol’s leading representatives over three centuries to the crimes that have been committed against black people. Edward Colston was the real criminal.

‘It is time Bristol faced up to its past. The city council and business community should now make a public apology for the role the city has played in the slave trade. We need to commemorate and remember the legacy of slavery.

‘No charges should be brought against any individual for bringing down the statue.

‘Avon and Somerset Constabulary should stop their investigations.

‘There should be no pressure from Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, to prosecute.

‘Stand Up to Racism and come to this socially distanced protest (please bring facemasks).’

As of today, over 1,000 people had registered themselves as ‘interested’ in the event, which was also endorsed on social media by organisations such as Bristol’s Extinction Rebellion (XR) division.

However, considerably less than the numbers expected on social media platforms turned up.

Furthermore, a petition set up, entitled ‘Bristol City Council: Protect the Colston protestors from prosecution’ has reached over 160,000 signatures as of the time of publishing.

The protest ended with the declaration that if prosecutions go ahead then protestors will head to the court room – demonstrators said they will not rest until they believe that those involved in the toppling of the statue are safe from prosecution.

Featured Image: Robin Connolly

What do you think about whether or not those involved with the toppling of the statue should be prosecuted?