Marvin Rees, who is the son of a Jamaican father and British mother, said the statue was a “personal affront” to him, although he would not condone the damage done by demonstrators.
“As an elected politician, obviously I cannot condone the damage and I am very concerned about the implications of a mass gathering on the possibility of a second Covid wave,” Mr Rees told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But I am of Jamaican heritage and I cannot pretend that I have any real sense of loss for the statue, and I cannot pretend it was anything other than a personal affront to me to have it in the middle of Bristol, the city in which I grew up."
When the mayor was asked if those involved in removing the statue should be charged, he added: “That is up to the criminal justice system.
“I don't really intervene in criminal matters like that – that's not for me to go and be a cheerleader to the police in any criminal investigations.”
Police have launched an investigation after the bronze statue of Colston, which has long faced calls to be removed, was torn down during a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday.
The statue was dragged through the city before being dumped in the harbour by Pero’s Bridge, which was named after an enslaved man, Pero Jones, who lived and died in Bristol.
Avon and Somerset Police did not intervene in the incident and praised protesters in general for being “peaceful and respectful” during the demonstration, which was attended by about 10,000 people.
No arrests were made, but officers are now collating footage of a “small group of people” filmed pulling down the statue with ropes, amounting to criminal damage, the force said.
Mr Rees, the elected Labour mayor, said the statue would be pulled out of the water and placed on display in a museum along with placards from the protest.
He also noted that there was “historic irony” in the statue being placed in the harbour, as people had previously been thrown off the sides of slave ships.
Meanwhile, the UK government has condemned the pulling down of the statue, with Priti Patel, the home secretary, calling the incident “utterly disgraceful”.
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said a “criminal act” had been committed during the protest.
“People can campaign for the removal of a statue but what happened yesterday was a criminal act, and when the criminal law is broken that is unacceptable and the police will want to hold to account those responsible,” the spokesperson said.
“The PM absolutely understands the strength of feeling, but in this country we settle our differences democratically and if people wanted the removal of the statue there are democratic routes which can be followed.”
Additional reporting by PA
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