It’s easy to deal with a few offensive statues; less so with deep hurt and upset across the country

Editorial: The continuing arguments about Brexit, equality, the coronavirus response and now even public art have created bitter divisions, as well as anger and ugly scenes

Protesters throw a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally
Protesters throw a statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally

A straightforward case of criminal damage or a long-overdue blow for racial equality? The toppling of the controversial and increasingly offensive statue of Edward Colston in Bristol was the most striking of many symbolic acts during the recent demonstrations. Now that the effigy of this slave master has been drenched in red paint and dumped in the harbour, it is almost an academic question. It seems improbable, at any rate, that he will be restored to his former place of prominence.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, tweeted that “justice will follow”. It is an intriguing prospect. First, the group of demonstrators going about their alleged criminal joint enterprise at Bristol harbour was a large one. Second, given the financial cost of the damage, the case could go to a jury trial, and it would be a test of contemporary opinion to see whether they would be prepared to convict in such an obviously emotive case.

Sir Keir Starmer, backed by his shadow justice secretary David Lammy, certainly thinks that the law was broken, and that those who purport to make the law cannot condone criminal acts. Mr Lammy adds there is an honourable tradition of peaceful civil resistance, but that even Martin Luther King faced the legal consequences for his acts of resistance. It is not a cop-out to state that a more suitable contemporary home for the statue of a slave trader should long ago have been found. The authorities in Bristol failed to reach consensus, for whatever reason, and the results are well known.

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