LONDON (AP) — Four anti-racism demonstrators are clear of criminal damage in the toppling of a statue of a 17th-century slave trader during a Black Lives Matter protest in southwestern England.
How They Toppled a Symbol of Slavery
Protesters used ropes to pull down the bronze statue of Edward Colston on June 7, 2020. The broken statue was then thrown into the harbor. The demonstration was part of a worldwide reckoning with racism and slavery sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Loud cheers rang out from a packed public gallery at Bristol Crown Court as a jury acquitted Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33.
“This is a victory for Bristol, this is a victory for racial equality and it’s a victory for anybody who wants to be on the right side of history,” Willoughby said.
Graham, Ponsford and Willoughby were caught on closed-circuit television passing the ropes around the statue. Skuse was accused of orchestrating a plan to roll it into the harbor.
The four admitted their involvement but denied they committed a crime. According to them, the statue itself was a hate crime against the people of Bristol.
When they were released from court, they hugged the many supporters waiting outside.
The four had gotten got high profile help with their case. Elusive street artist Banksy designed a limited edition T-shirt, pledging the funds raised to their cause.
“The truth is that the defendants should never have been prosecuted,” Raj Chada, who represented Skuse, said in a statement following the verdict.
“It is shameful that Bristol City Council did not take down the statue of slaver Edward Colston that had caused such offense to people in Bristol, and equally shameful that they then supported the prosecution of these defendants,” Chada added.
Who Was Edward Colston?
On Bristol-based ships, Colston transported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas in the 17th century. His money funded schools and charities in Bristol, 120 miles (195 kilometers) southwest of London.
Colston’s statue was fished out of the harbor and is now on display in a museum in Bristol.