So it begins, the trial of the four Colston Statue Topplers, 18 months after hundreds were involved in the toppling, and thousands cheered them on.
This trial is not about criminal damage, although we can guarantee the judge â the Recorder of Bristol, Judge Peter Blair â will do his absolute utmost to ensure only the alleged actions constituting alleged criminal damage on 7 June 2020 are discussed in court.
This trial is about politics, and power, and the desire of the ruling class â the Tory Government & their friends, locally that means the Merchant Venturers â to get some revenge against the topplers, whilst reinforcing their narrative about statues and the white rich men we should bow down before, and essentially telling us to never ever challenge their rule of law again. To be blunt, the Tories cannot afford to lose this trial. It wonât just ruin their xmas roasts, itâll be a major hit on their anti-democratic & repressive PCSC Bill, and a major boost to everyone who hates the Tories & other racists. This Trial will be global news, the whole world is watching, and much of it wants to see the defendants win.
So to that end, we expect the Judge, assisted by the QC-led prosecution, to try and rule out each and every mention of anything to do with Colstonâs slave-trading; the slave trade in general; Bristolâs slave trade legacy; Black Lives Matter; the hostile environment and day to day systemic racism; and of course the fact that Bristolians have been protesting about the Colston statue for at least 100yrsâŠbut been blocked by the Council and Merchant Venturers. So we expect the Judge will remove and rule out any attempt to put the statue into any sort of context; and then when the Jury retires (to make their decision) heâll direct them to find the defendants guilty based on the evidence in front of them. But will they?
The trial is also about politics for the current Bristol Mayor and his fairly spineless Labour administration. Despite his direct experience of a lifetime of racism, the Mayor had refused to do anything at all about the Colston statue, even when heâs had some easy chances. Then when Colston was toppled, the Mayor didnât just bask in the reflected glory & publicity of the toppling, appearing in media round the world. He also assisted the police investigation and prosecution by ensuring the Council provided the statement the police so desperately needed. To be clear, there was absolutely no legal requirement on the Mayor to do that, none at all! He could have said that a prosecution would create further division and not benefit Bristol at all. But no, perhaps thinking of his own future political & business career, he complied with the requests of the police and state. So we have a black Mayor, who talks endlessly of Bristol moving forwards as âOne Cityâ, assisting in the prosecution of a bunch of young white anti-racists who pulled down from itâs pedestal the statue of a mass-murdering slave-trader. If thatâs the âOne Cityâ the Mayor has in mind then now we know â it just means business as usual, with the same old elites remaining in power & staying wealthy. He can stick that where the sun doesnât shine. If the defendants are not found guilty, the Mayor will have some serious explaining to do. His resignation will become an issueâŠwhatever the outcome of the trial.
This trial is pointless. It is a total waste of money, and we estimate the trial is now costing the taxpayer in the region of a quarter of a million pounds. Defence costs alone are estimated as close to ÂŁ100k, with perhaps ÂŁ60-80k covered by legal aid. Prosecution costs, with a QC employed to lead, plus the court & staff time, the prosecution witnesses time, the police investigation, all the adminâŠwill be more. And thatâs without any sort of appeal.
The defendants are being charged with criminal damage to a statue, that will by now, in itâs graffitied & damaged state, be worth many many times more than it was worth before it was toppled. Itâs like a damaged Banksy! So, prosecuted for increasing dramatically the value of an item they are alleged to have damaged? Ridiculous!
The trial is pointless because history has marched on. Colstonâs name was starting to get dropped from early 2017 when the Colston Hall announced theyâd be consulting on a new name. The process of de-Colstonisation has accelerated since June 2020 â see this timeline of protestâŠandâŠthis timeline of impacts of the toppling. The churches were finally embarassed into dropping their veneration of Colston, Schools changed their names. Buildings removed his name. Residents continue to try to get street names changed. Societies and other institutions linked to Colston have been wound up or changed their names and/or symbols. Pubs have changed their names. Even the Merchant Venturers decided within days of 7 June 2020 to distance themselves from the racist conotations inherent in Colston. Any link with Colston, anywhere in Bristol, has been pretty much dropped. History has marched on, Colston is no longer a controversial figure, heâs just an old mass-murdering slave-trader that only an out and out racist would try and defend. The Tories, and the Bristol Mayor, are on the wrong side of history, and they are just plain wrong. We and a majority around the world know that, because change always happens over time.
Whose side are you on? We stand with the Colston Topplers and all those, of whatever skin colour, who fight for a better world against injustice, inequality & oppression.
If you are struggling to get your heads around all this, try reading some of this material:
Bristol Radical History Groupâs Colston Project articles & articles on Slavery & Resistance
Countering Colston campaign
All AlternativeBristol articles on the Colston Statue and Toppling
@GladColstonsGone coalition on FB and Instagram
Updates via twitter â @CounterColston + @BrisRadHis + @alt_bristol_ + @bristoldefenda1
Donate to the Bristol Topplers Defence Fund Crowdfunder