UK: Debate breaks out after acquittal in slave trader statue case
Four protesters, involved in taking down the statue of a slave trader earlier this year, were acquitted; however, this sparked a national debate: Where does Britain go with its racism?
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Britain should resist efforts to "bowdlerize" its colonial past after 4 protesters had their criminal charges dropped. The protesters, after the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, took down a statue of notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June.
"But what I would say is that my feeling is that we have a complex historical legacy all around us, and it reflects our history in all its diversity, for good or ill," Johnson told reporters. "What you can't do is go around seeking retrospectively to change our history or to bowdlerize it or edit it in retrospect... It's like some person trying to edit their Wikipedia entry -– it's wrong."
The defendants who were cleared of charges admitted to participating in the protests, which witnessed Colston's statue being thrown into Bristol Harbor in 2020.
The jury overseeing the case agreed to the premise that Colston's history, full of oppression and supremacy, played a central role in evaluating the case and coming to a conclusion, in addition to the idea that immortalizing him in public amounts to a hate crime.
Colston was complicit in the enslavement and trade of over 80,000 Africans - 10,000 of whom were children. Around 19,000 of that number died on ships of cold and sickness on their way to the Americas and the Caribbean.
Different sites in Bristol have been renamed upon reassessment of the UK's colonial history, inspiring domestic debates about how Britain should carry its history into the future.
The British government has recently been attempting to make penalties for vandalism more draconian under the pretext that it is creating divisions, waging a "cultural war" against so-called woke activism.
David Olusoga, a prominent British historian and writer, testified in the now-acquitted defense. Olusoga welcomed the jury's decision, arguing that "that statue standing there for 125 years was validating the career of a mass murderer," he told ITV. "And to people whose ancestors were enslaved by Colston and men like him, it is offensive, and you can talk to thousands of people in Bristol who found it offensive."
UK's crackdown on protests, free speech
The Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill - UK's new bill - penalizes, suppresses, and controls collective action. The bill can penalize anyone doing as little as voicing their grievances over a megaphone with a fine just for being "too noisy".
Occupying public spaces, hanging off bridges, or any sort of behavior - however peaceful - that "intentionally or recklessly" causes "public nuisance", is subject to law enforcement. That includes tampering with public memorials, such as when the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was brought down and replaced in Bristol, June 2021. That sort of behavior, with the new bill, can land a civilian in prison for up to 10 years.
The bill can penalize just about anyone for calling for a protest on social media and for refusing to follow police orders on how they should carry out the protest (which, by the way, can penalize a protester up to £2,500). Police can control how "noisy" the protests can be - considering that this goes under the "serious disruption" offense - as much as they can decide when the protest starts and when it finishes. It becomes clear that police are given a lot more power than they once had, to the point that instead of simple 'law enforcement, the bill looks like an attempt of 'state control' and suppression of freedoms.