All civilised people have been deeply shocked by the death of the black American George Floyd, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Floyd).
The death of George Floyd has, very naturally aroused strong emotions and has lled to demonstrations (most of them peaceful), protesting at his death, and calling for reform of the US police and judicial system, which the demonstrators see as biased against black people. Given the extremely tense situation (and the need for a fair trial of the officers involved), I wont comment on the case itself, as I don’t wish to further inflame an already extremely tense situation. I do, however wish to comment on the actions of a minority of those who have/are protesting over the tragic death of George Floyd.
I understand the sense of sadness and anger felt by those who have taken to the streets to protest at the death of George Floyd and what they see as indemic racism in the US judicial and policing systems. A small minority are, however participating in acts of vandalism which can, in no way be excused.
An example of the vandalism refered to above concerns the removal of a statue of the Bristol slave merchant Edward Colston and the throwing of it into the harbour by demonstrators, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Colston).
The Black Lives Matter demonstrators where incensed that a statue of a merchant who had been a participant in the transatlantic slave trade continued to stand in a public place, so took the action outlined above.
Now, no reasonable person is going to defend slavery. The idea of buying and selling human beings is abhorrent, as is the belief (which underpinned the trade in human lives) that black people are racialy inferior to white people. However Colston’s statue represents an important part of British history. It is not a noble aspect of our past. It is, nonetheless part of the historical record and vandalising a statue of a slave trader does nothing to bring back those who cruely suffered as a consequence of slavery, nor does it assist, in any shape or form in achieving justice for George Floyd and his family and friends.
However abhorrent the practice of slavery is (and it is undoubtedly a vile practice), we must (however hard it is to do so) look at men such as Colston in the context of the time in which they lived. Opposition to slavery was not widespread during Colston’s lifetime, indeed it had widespread support. This fact does not, of course mean that slavery can, in any sense be justified. It does, however mean that we need to show some objectivity when viewing men such as Edward Colston.
Prior to the criminal removal of the statue, discussions had taken place regarding the placing of a plaque mentioning Colston’s involvement in the slave trade, together with his donations to local charities. Such discussions where still ongoing at the time of the statue’s forceable removal. In my view the affixing of a plaque revealing the history of the man (warts and all) would have been the correct course of action, rather than the act of vandalism which took place.
Of course, if we all took it into our heads to remove statues because of our dislike of the persons they celebrate, there would be chaos. We all have our heroes and vilains. Take, for example the statue of Engels which stands in the city of Manchester, (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/soviet-engels-statue). Whilst neither Engels nor Marx can be blamed for the crimes of Lenin, Stalin and other Communist dictators, the ideology of Marxism has led to the deaths of millions of human beings in Stalin’s Gulags and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Whilst I can well understand why someone who had suffered under Communism might well want to pull down Engels statue, I would not defend them where they to do so. Engels lived for 30 years in Manchester and can be regarded as a prominent citizen. Those on the far-left who cheered on the vandalism of Colston’s statue, would be hopping mad where the same treatment to be meted out to that of Engels. They would rightly condemn the pulling down of Engels as criminal damage. So, to those who support the destruction of statues of people who they find objectionable, is it now open season for anyone (and everyone) to deface statues of people they dislike?
Of course human life is more important than property. However the tragic death of George Floyd does not excuse the acts of thuggery committed by a minority of those who claim to act for the betterment of the lives of black people.