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Bristol daily’s editor says city brought statue’s toppling ‘upon itself’

The Bristol Post’s editor says the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue is something his patch “has brought upon itself”.

Mike Norton says the city has spent “too long prevaricating and handwringing” about the slave trader’s legacy after the monument was hauled from its plinth and dumped in a harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest yesterday.

In an editorial published after the incident, Mike said Bristol had “been in denial for decades” about the roles of both Colston and the city itself in the Transatlantic slave trade.

The Post splashed this morning on the headline ‘Colston’s Fall’, a reference to the Colston Hall music venue which is also controversially named after the slaver.

Bristol Colston

In his editorial, Mike wrote: “Some will see this action as a victory for injustice. Others will see it as a victory for mob rule. As a Bristolian, I can’t help but see it as something that our city has brought upon itself.

“It is a harsh truth, but too many Bristolians have spent too long prevaricating and handwringing about the legacy of Edward Colston.

“Our city has been in denial for decades about his role – and its own – in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Perhaps even for centuries.

“That Colston profited from the exploitation and deaths of thousands of African slaves is not in question. But Bristol has consistently managed to talk itself out of properly dealing with that uncomfortable truth.

“More than that, Colston has become a metaphor for the city’s own refusal to face up to the fact that much of its very fabric – its buildings, its wealth, its status – comes from the exploitation of human beings.”

Mike went on to claim the city had “danced on the head of arguments about re-writing history or overlooking the ‘good’ of Colston’s financial legacies”.

He added: “Let’s face it, we couldn’t even agree on the wording for a second plaque detailing Colston’s role in the slave trade to sit alongside the statue’s existing one. Even that was left festering and unresolved.

“And, in all that time, the statue – so increasingly offensive to many Bristolians – stood, as Shakespeare put it, like ‘patience on a monument, smiling at grief’.

“Today, however violent and illegal that some will judge them, it took the direct actions of angry young people to bring an end to Bristol’s prevarication.

“Their anger has finally forced Bristol to confront the harsh reality of its past in the space of one afternoon. And our city’s future may well be defined by how it reacts to what they’ve done.”

The Post has itself made a number of efforts in recent years to address past issues with Bristol’s black community.

In 2017 Mike admitted that his newspaper had “too few” ethnic minority journalists and had contributed to a “cultural divide” on his patch, with the Post backing a campaign aimed at tackling the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the city.

The following year he apologised for a 1996 front page which featured headshots of black men, who had been jailed for drugs offences, looking like “slaves in cages”.

In 2019 a further apology was issued after the Post drew criticism for a front page picture of Marvin Rees, Bristol’s black mayor, which was likened to a “criminal mug shot”.

Mike also vowed last year to “name and shame” officials if there was a “witch hunt” for whistleblowers who helped a Post investigation which exposed claims of institutional racism at Bristol City Council.