Over the weekend we saw protestors in Bristol dramatically pull down the statue of Edward Colston that stood in the city centre. Colston profited from the enslavement of 84,000 African men, women and children, of whom 19,000 died on their journey.
It is not right that we celebrate such a person. I called years ago for the statue of Edward Colston to be removed from the city centre and for various streets and buildings named after him and others with involvement in the slave trade to be changed. I stand by that. Whilst I’m disappointed that it had to happen in this way I do not regret that the statue has been removed.
Hundreds of you have written to me about the recent terrible killing in the USA of George Floyd. This has reminded us of the problems of racism and inequality that exist here in the UK. I understand why people felt that they had to demonstrate in different ways. It’s not right that so much discrimination and exclusion has remained with us and we have to use this moment to take the urgent action which has been needed for so long.
Whilst the protests in the centre took place many of us found different ways to mark our support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement over the weekend. I support this cause. However, the scientific advice on mass gatherings remains the same – we risk another outbreak of COVID-19 if we come together in large groups and for this reason I did not take part in any mass gatherings. Many of us instead showed our feelings and views from home, in social media posts and in acts of solidarity similar to those we have been showing for key workers on Thursday evenings, from our doorsteps. I ask everyone to think of ways of demonstrating their hurt, anger and solidarity, without risking our health at this dangerous time.
Our Mayor Marvin Rees has said in his statement on Sunday: “Today’s protest saw around 10,000 people take to the city streets to stand against injustice and racism, with many more joining in at home by Taking the Knee. Thank you to everyone who took part peacefully and respected the need to protect their communities as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
“I know the removal of the Colston Statue will divide opinion, as the statue itself has done for many years. However, it’s 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. I call on everyone to challenge racism and inequality in every corner of our city and wherever we see it.”
I strongly support Marvin in this and applaud what he is doing to bring and keep us all together in a healthy and respectful debate about what happens next.
As Bristol’s MPs, Kerry McCarthy, Karin Smyth, Darren Jones and I have put out a joint statement as well as supporting what Marvin is doing for the city.
I remained in regular contact with the senior police officers on duty throughout the weekend and am pleased that the way the event was organised and policed meant that there were no injuries or public disorder which could have endangered life or limb.
In normal times, we would demonstrate together to show our views, make our voices heard and support each other through this. These are not normal times.
We need to change who we commemorate in our public monuments to reflect the diversity of our city and to celebrate those who have contributed and not exploited others. That means looking at our monuments and the names of buildings and streets. But we will also have to do the tough and detailed work necessary to dismantle structural racism and racism and other forms of discrimination in our everyday lives as well. That could mean changing recruitment practices, or analysing how we spend public money, or supporting our wonderful schools to expand the great work they already do to teach a wide range of histories including black histories. And it will also mean individual changes for us all – but these could and should be exciting, if we do this together.
I know that change is often hard so we will have to do this as a city and share our views, experiences and ideas in respectful and constructive ways and be prepared to listen to different ideas which may be challenging and be willing to change.
I am listening to you about how we can turn this urge for change into actual change and what we need to do to achieve this. All suggestions welcome and I will be setting up consultations on this soon.
Please be sure to stay safe and maintain social distancing and other health measures. We all need to take care of each other – it’s what Bristol does best.