I’m one of the Colston Four. Our victory took the nation closer to racial justice | Rhian Graham


On 7 June 2020, I used to be half of a bunch of protesters who pulled down a statue of the slave dealer Edward Colston and threw it into the Bristol harbour. I’ve by no means felt and can by no means really feel that what we did was unsuitable, and I’ve by no means thought I used to be a prison. But it surely’s an exquisite factor {that a} jury has sat via all the proof, and are available to the similar conclusion.

I had feeling about the trial all through, however I had to put together for each outcomes – it might have gone both means. Our defence rested on the argument that we had certainly pulled down the statue throughout a Black Lives Matter protest, however that given Colston’s position in the Royal African Firm, which enslaved tens of hundreds and was liable for the deaths of an estimated 19,000 individuals, this wasn’t a case of prison harm.

Rhian Graham, far right, with (from left) Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse and Milo Ponsford outside Bristol Crown Court, 5 January 2022.
Rhian Graham, far proper, with (from left) Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse and Milo Ponsford exterior Bristol Crown Courtroom, 5 January 2022.

Clearly I don’t suppose that this verdict means we should always begin flattening all the statues in the UK. Actually, it’s not about statues in any respect: it’s about that statue, on this metropolis, at the moment. It truly is a really specific backdrop, and the jury clearly got here to an understanding of that nuance. The legacy of all the individuals who have protested towards the statue and campaigned to finish the “cult of Colston” in Bristol gave us legs to stand on – teams resembling Countering Colston and Bristol Radical History Group. With out all those that have dug deep into historical past, we wouldn’t have stood an opportunity – our actions would have been seen as prison harm by the jury.

My barrister Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh mentioned that jury trials are one of the backbones of our democracy, and of the authorized system, as a result of they permit for choices like this. Nonetheless, there already appears to have been a direct authorities response to the Colston statue toppling in the type of a clause in the new police, crime, sentencing and courts invoice, which states that should you pull down a monument you may rise up to 10 years in jail, as opposed to the earlier three months maximum. The invoice as an entire will enable police to shut down protests on the foundation of noise or “critical annoyance”, and can make it simpler to convict protesters. Even below our present legal guidelines individuals charged with rioting are dealing with time in jail that appears fully disproportionate to their actions.

Our case has demonstrated the worth and energy of protest. One of the arguments made by our authorized workforce was that the cultural and historic worth of the statue has truly elevated because it was taken down. And one thing they weren’t allowed to point out to the jury, however which an artwork valuer confirmed for us, was that its financial worth has elevated by up to 50-fold since we pulled it down. In that sense, how can it’s mentioned that we broken something? That statue is a much more great tool for historical past and studying than it ever was earlier than, which negates any of the arguments made about us “erasing historical past”. You possibly can’t erase historical past. What Colston and the myths round him have finished is shroud historical past by deeming him – as the statue’s plaque says – “one of [Bristol’s] most virtuous and clever sons”. We are attempting to shine a lightweight in locations individuals don’t need lights shining.

I hope this end result has given a platform to the individuals in Bristol who’ve been preventing this battle far longer than I’ve. Town has a transparent obligation now to reckon with its previous and arrange memorials or museums to the slave commerce, and recognise that a lot of the prosperity loved at the moment in the UK and Bristol comes off the again of historic atrocities. However Colston represents one thing even wider than that. Wealth disparity and inequality impacts all races. You hear some counter-arguments to Black Lives Matter that the white working class lose out as a result of Black British individuals get some form of particular remedy, however that’s simply not the case. One of the essential classes from all that is to do not forget that simply because another person is struggling and you’ve got empathy for his or her struggles, it doesn’t invalidate your personal. All of us want to have empathy for one one other.

This verdict is just not about me, it’s not about Sage Willoughby or Milo Ponsford or Jake Skuse – the different members of the so-called Colston 4 who stood trial with me. It’s about Bristol, and it’s a win for the individuals of Bristol. It’s one other step alongside the means in direction of racial justice.