The majority of statues and monuments being torn
down in the U.S. at the present moment are those
glorifying the Confederate side in the U.S. Civil
War because they exalt those who promoted slavery
and the dispossession and disenfranchisement of
African Americans. More than 50 such statues and
monuments have been torn down, defaced or
pre-emptively removed by authorities since George
Floyd was killed by the police on May 26.
Statue of John A. Macdonald in
Already in 2018, a statue of Macdonald was taken
down in Victoria, BC. The artist who created it
recently told CTV "he is ashamed to admit that he
didn't know about residential schools until after
he crafted the statue and now believes these
monuments should also be taken down."
In Toronto, there is a call for Ryerson University to remove the statue of its founder Egerton Ryerson. A petition expressing this demand noted that Ryerson "aided the Canadian government in the creation of Residential Schools" and "opposed the education of women." The petition can be read in full and signed here.
Also in Toronto, there is a petition to rename
Dundas Street, which honours the British Empire's
representative Henry Dundas. The petition
explains, "As the MP for Midlothian in Westminster
and as Secretary of State he actively participated
in obstructing the abolition of slavery in the
British Empire from 1791 to the end of his
political career in 1806. Slavery was eventually
abolished in 1833 and officially in British North
America in 1834. But Dundas' actions to preserve
the profiteering of his friends in the slave trade
cost tens of thousands of lives, if not more."
That petition can be read in full and signed here.
Recent removals of symbols glorifying those who committed acts of genocide against Indigenous peoples include the renaming of Amherst Street in Montreal to Atateken Street on National Indigenous Day (June 21) 2019, which realized a decades-long demand of local residents and businesses. British general Jeffrey Amherst is infamous for carrying out biological warfare against the Indigenous peoples by using blankets contaminated with smallpox. Atatekan is a Mohawk word meaning "Brothers and Sisters."
In Halifax, in 2017 the statue of Edward
Cornwallis was removed from the park also named
after him. Cornwallis was the British Governor of
Nova Scotia who is said to have founded Halifax.
In 1749, Cornwallis put a bounty on the scalp of
every Mi'kmaq man, woman and child in the province
-- a move tantamount to genocide. This practice
was also used against the Acadians between 1755
and 1763, during the British takeover of part of
the former French colonies. The lands seized by
the British had been settled by the Acadians when
they arrived in 1604.
The proposal for the removal of Cornwallis' statue and to rename the park Halifax Peace and Freedom Park was first made on November 21, 2009 when some 200 people gathered at a rally there to oppose the inaugural meeting of the Halifax International Security Forum, the warmongering agency based in Washington, DC and funded by Canada's Department of National Defence and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. With Mi'kmaq approval, the activists covered the statue of Cornwallis and took the collective decision to rename the park as their very first act.
In England, people have removed or are demanding
the removal of statues of slave traders and
notorious racists, symbols of the ruling elites'
glorification of empire, racism and slavery.
Base of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, after statue was torn down.
In Bristol on June 7, a statue of Edward Colston
torn down by protesters and thrown in the harbour.
Colston was a
notorious human trafficker in the late 17th
century who was associated
with Bristol, one of the main British ports
trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans. From
1680 onwards, Colston
was chiefly connected with the London-based Royal
(RAC), which had a monopoly on Britain's slave
trade in that period,
transporting Africans to Britain's colonies in
North America and the
Caribbean. In 1689 he became deputy governor of
the RAC. He was also
involved in sugar production, another industry
based on the labour of
enslaved Africans. On the basis of his great
wealth as well as a Tory
MP he was associated with the Society of Merchant
Venturers in Bristol,
a monopoly that controlled local government and
trade. The Society,
with Colston's support, petitioned to end the
royal monopoly on the
trafficking of Africans, allowing the merchants of
Bristol to engage in
the trafficking of enslaved Africans, which the
controlled. He became a major benefactor to
various schools and
charities in Bristol to advance his own business
interests, as opposed
to those of the Crown.
Several Bristol schools have been named after Edward Colston as was until recently Colston Hall, a major concert venue. A statue was erected in his honour in 1895 with a plaque reading "Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city."
Protests about the statue have been ongoing for more than 20 years. In 2018 a second plaque was proposed which added:
"As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died en route to the Caribbean and America. Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and in slave-produced sugar. As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city's 'right' to trade in enslaved Africans. Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not permitted to benefit from his charities."
There was opposition to this wording and after several other attempts no resolution was reached, until finally the statue has been brought down altogether.
In London, a statue of Robert Milligan at West
India Quay in the Docklands was removed in a
pre-emptive move by authorities on June 9. Erected
in Milligan's honour following his death in 1809,
there have long been demands for its removal. In
early June, a petition from a local councillor to
remove the statue received thousands of
signatures. The Museum of London Docklands issued
a statement prior to the statue's removal that
said in part:
"Now more than ever at a time when Black Lives Matter is calling for an end to public monuments honouring slave owners, we advocate for the statue of Robert Milligan to be removed on the grounds of its historical links to colonial violence and exploitation.
"We are currently working with a consortium to remove this statue and are aware of other legacies and landmarks within the area. The statue presently stands shrouded with placards and is now an object of protest, we believe these protests should remain as long as the statue remains."
Milligan inherited sugar plantations in Jamaica and was the owner of over 500 enslaved Africans. He later led the consortia that built West India Dock in London to facilitate the import of slave-produced products from the Caribbean.
Also in London, a statement from Guy's and St. Thomas' Charity, Guy's and St. Thomas' National Health Service Foundation Trust and King's College London announced on June 11 that the figures depicting Robert Clayton and Thomas Guy will be taken out of public view. "Like many organizations in Britain, we know that we have a duty to address the legacy of colonialism, racism and slavery in our work. We absolutely recognize the public hurt and anger that is generated by the symbolism of public statues of historical figures associated with the slave trade in some way," the statement said.
Clayton, a former Lord Mayor of London, had ties to the Royal African Company while Guy invested in the South Sea Company, which was also involved in the slave trade of 4,800 adult men every year.
Another statue the public is demanding be removed is that of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University. Rhodes was an ardent advocate of British imperialism and the supremacy of the "Anglo-Saxon" race. A petition on Change.org has nearly 190,000 signatures calling on the university to remove the statue. The petition states in part:
"We believe that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is seeped in has no place in our university -- which for many of us is also our home. The removal of this statue would be a welcome first step in the University's attempt to redress the ways in which it has been an active beneficiary of empire. While it remains standing, the statue of Rhodes remains a celebration not just of the crimes of the man himself, but of the imperialist legacy on which Oxford University has thrived, and continues to thrive. While the statue remains standing, Oxford University continues to condone the persistent racism that shadows this institution."
The university has voted to remove it but has not said when. Students have sought to have the statue removed since at least 2015, taking up the Rhodes Must Fall campaign that began at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, which succeeded in having a statue of Rhodes removed.
A statue of a more recent figure, that of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Parliament Square in London, has been defaced during recent protests, with the slogan "Churchill was a racist" spray-painted across its base. There are numerous accounts of his racist outlook directed against East Asians, South Asians and Black people, and his belief in white supremacy, as part of his ardent British imperialist outlook. The statue has now been boarded up to prevent further vandalism.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, as in Toronto, protesters are calling to end the glorification of Henry Dundas. Reporting on the ongoing protests for the removal of his statue, 570 News notes, "The late 18th-century Scottish politician was responsible for delaying Britain's abolition of the slave trade by 15 years until 1807. During that time, more than half a million enslaved Africans were trafficked across the Atlantic." In an attempt to avoid the inevitable, the City of Edinburgh has responded with a plan to leave the statue in place, atop a high column, with signage to explain that he was "instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade."
There are many statues across Belgium to honour
King Leopold II "of the Belgians," who plundered
the Congo Free State and carried out atrocities
and crimes against the people including mass
murder, mass mutilation, forced labour on pain of
death, rape, assassinations and more, besides
expropriating Congo's wealth, especially for the
production of rubber, in the period of 1885-1908.
The statues aim to sanitize and glorify Belgium's and King Leopold II's crimes in the Congo. They have been desecrated on an ongoing basis in recent years, especially since the killing of George Floyd. In Antwerp, authorities removed a statue of King Leopold II on June 9 after it sustained serious damage during protests.
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Citizen's committees are removing or renaming British imperialist figures and institutions in Ireland as part of the movement for empowerment and against British colonialism.
Streets surrounding Belfast City Hall including May Street and Donegall Square were renamed after three Irish patriots, the hunger strikers -- Joe McDonnell, Bobby Sands and Kieran Doherty -- who laid down their lives inside the H-blocks of Long Kesh internment camp in 1981 for the rights of political prisoners and the cause of Irish freedom. Another street honours James Connolly, the Communist leader at the centre of the 1916 Rising for independence. Queen's University was renamed "Mairéad Farrell University Belfast" with signage erected across its prominent front gates after the former student and IRA volunteer, killed in Gibraltar on active service in 1988. The names also serve as an important reminder of the ruthless brutality of the British government in Ireland under the leadership of then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
For years there has been sharp criticism of the way the colonial period is remembered in the Republic of Ireland. Some statues have been removed officially and others "unofficially." One such case was the statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what was then Sackville Street (later renamed O'Connell Street) in Dublin, Ireland. Erected in 1809 when Ireland was forced to be part of the United Kingdom, it survived for more than 40 years until March 1966. It was frequently pointed out that a statue to the British admiral had no place in Dublin after Irish independence was achieved and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 which divided the island. After years of inconclusive discussion the issue was dealt with when the statue was finally toppled with gelignite, as was that of a large statue of George II and his horse brought to ground at Stephen's Green in 1937. Nelson's remnants were later destroyed by the Irish Army but its head is preserved in a museum.
Recently campaigns have been underway in Ireland, like that in Cork, to remove the name Queen Victoria, known as the "Famine Queen," from street signs. That her main statue at Leinster House in Dublin survived until 1948 (26 years after the creation of the Free State) is something of a miracle. She was monarch when Ireland was beset by a famine organized by filthy rich landowners and millions starved or emigrated. After gathering dust in Ireland for some years, Victoria got a trip to Sydney, Australia to be "planted" outside the Queen Victoria Building despite some bids from Canadian buyers. Writing in the Irish Times the following month, Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O'Nolan/Flann O'Brien) was not overly bothered with its removal -- her statutes were more harmful than her statues, as he put it. "Besides, look at it this way," he wrote. "Time has given the mere Irish their revenge. The fact is that Victoria has turned green. Of hue she approaches our decent Irish letterbox. And it is the price of her."
In Belfast, the spokesperson for the current committee changing street and place signs in Belfast, Pól Torbóid, said their list of place names from across the city featured "prominent individuals responsible for historic abuses in Ireland."
"Belfast's streets, littered with the poverty of its people, its homeless and jobless; are also littered with the names of those whose attitude to Ireland was one of subjugation, and who, by force of arms, forced a political and economic system upon our people, which became the foundation for partition, and for the current economic struggles faced by the Irish people, Torbóid said.
"These street names, monuments to those who delivered misery across our nation in one form or another, also serve as monuments to the political and economic system that they helped to build in Ireland.
"These street names, the symbols of oppression, hate and servitude, must be stripped away. "They must be replaced with the names of those who sought to build a better Ireland, the names of those who fought against oppression, against hate and against servitude."
"They must be replaced with the names of heroes: of normal people. Not lords. Not kings or queens; but rather those who weren't the heirs to vast riches.
"Those whose only inheritance was that which they tried to carve out of a political system that railed against them.
"It is our inheritance as Republicans to end the oppression immortalized in these street names and statues.
"It is our duty to end colonialism, to end the normalization of imperialism and, consequently, the political and economic system that maintains it."
(With files from Irish Republican News, Irish Times and the Celtic League. Photos: Lasair Dhearg)
On June 19, in the wake of the global upsurge following the killing of African American George Floyd, and protests in Britain about the glorification of slavery and empire, the Bank of England issued a statement "about its historical links to the slave trade."
According to the Bank of England: "There can be no doubt that the eighteenth and nineteenth century slave trade was an unacceptable part of English history. As an institution, the Bank of England was never itself directly involved in the slave trade, but is aware of some inexcusable connections involving former Governors and Directors and apologizes for them. The Bank has commenced a thorough review of its collection of images of former Governors and Directors to ensure none with any such involvement in the slave trade remain on display anywhere in the Bank. The Bank is committed to improving diversity and is actively engaging with staff, particularly with our BAME [Black, Asian and minority ethnic] colleagues, to help us identify and shape concrete steps that can be taken now to progress the Bank's efforts to be as inclusive as possible."
It would be difficult to compose a statement that more blatantly falsifies history, or one that is more at variance with the demands now being made by the people of Britain.
The Bank of England was incorporated in 1694 alongside the National Debt, originally a loan of £1.2m, both of which were necessary for the government of the day to pursue two major wars -- the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713). In return for the loan, at a rate of 8 per cent interest, the money lenders were allowed a monopoly on the issue of banknotes and effectively became the state bank. The creation of the Bank of England and the National Debt led to a tremendous growth of banking, credit, the City of London, the Stock Exchange, and all the main financial institutions of the capital-centred economic system that still exist today. In addition, they contributed to the modern system of taxation, in order to transfer wealth from the working people to the moneylenders and speculators who greatly profited from the wars.
The War of the Spanish Succession ended with the Treaty of Utrecht by which, amongst other things, the British government gained the asiento -- the right to supply Spanish colonies on the American continent with enslaved Africans. Britain already possessed colonies in North America and the Caribbean in which thousands of enslaved Africans were exploited, but acquiring the asiento led to Britain becoming the world's leading trafficker of enslaved African men, women and children throughout the 18th century.
No doubt the present Bank of England wants to distance itself from the most notorious criminals amongst its former governors, such as Humphrey Morice, who has been referred to as "the prince of London slave traders" during the 1720s. However, the Bank of England's entire history is inseparable from Britain's involvement in human trafficking and slavery, wars and empire, just as it is inseparable from the exploitation of the working people in Britain and the entire capital-centred system. The capital-centred system and all its financial institutions can therefore be held responsible for profiting from the trafficking of enslaved Africans, colonial conquests and empire.
In 1833, when the government of the day was compelled to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire, the major slaveowners were compensated with the award of £20m. As is well-known, neither those who were enslaved, nor the societies where they were enslaved or from where they were kidnapped, have ever been compensated, nor granted any reparatory justice. In 1833, £20m was equivalent to 40 per cent of total annual government expenditure, and was added to the National Debt in the form of a government bond or gilt, which pays interest to the holder, normally the major financial institutions or their investors. The gilts in question were not redeemed until 2015, meaning that it was a burden on the taxpayer until that time, as well as a means of speculation and profit.
Slavery and empire were indispensable in and integral to the emergence of the capital-centred system in Britain and throughout the world. Racism was and is the world view of the slave traders, financial oligarchs and all those who defend the capital-centred system. It is not just the statues of the criminals of the past that must be torn down in order to end racism and empower the people but the entire capital-centred system. The old authority must fall.
June 26 marks one month since the brutal killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Militant actions by Blacks, working people, youth and people from all walks of life in the U.S. and around the world continue demanding that militarized policing, brutality, killings and impunity be ended. The people are also demanding profound changes to bring this state of affairs to an end.
On June 12 in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old African American man, was fatally shot by Atlanta Police Department officer Garrett Rolfe. Brooks had fallen asleep in his car and was blocking a restaurant's drive-through lane. The police allege a breathalyzer exam indicated Brooks' blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit for driving and that this in turn permitted them to handcuff him. Whatever happened in the scuffle that ensued which involved Brooks seizing and firing one of the police officers' tasers, what is certain is that, in the end, Rolfe shot Brooks twice from behind and Brooks died after surgery.
Both officers were initially removed from duty after the shooting. On June 14, Rolfe was fired and the second officer involved -- named Brosnan -- was placed on administrative duty. On June 17, the Fulton County District Attorney announced 11 charges against Rolfe: felony murder, five counts of aggravated assault, four police oath violations, and damage to property. He said Rolfe should have been aware that the taser Brooks had taken posed no danger, as after being fired twice it could not fire again; that the officers did not provide timely medical aid to Brooks after he was shot, and that before providing aid, Rolfe kicked him and Brosnan stood on his shoulders. He also indicated that it was a violation of department policy for Rolfe to begin handcuffing Brooks before telling him he was being arrested. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned on June 13 in relation to the shooting, while Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has called for a review of the use of force policy. On June 16, many police officers called in sick, to protest their fellow officers being held to account for the killing of Rayshard Brooks.
The Mayor said she would direct city funds away from the police department and toward community programs. However, the city budget was approved on June 22 with no such changes, as city councillors cited promised raises and job security for police officers.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, three police officers were fired on June 24 after a routine review of police footage showed them making racist remarks against African Americans, with one calling for a "civil war" against Black people.
In Louisville, Kentucky, on June 1 David McAtee, who ran a barbeque cart, held a social gathering which was attacked by police. Initial reports indicate that Louisville police aggressively fired pepper balls at the crowd at head level, prompting McAtee to fire his gun in the air as a warning shot. He was then killed by National Guard at the scene. McAtee's mother later told reporters that her son was known by the police and the community, and that he had fed all the policemen and would join them for discussions while they ate.
Another recent incident of police abuse took place at a Black Lives Matter protest in Miami on June 10, where Alaa Massri was unlawfully arrested, and then had her rights further violated while in detention. A petition in support of Massri points out, "After witnessing an individual being hit with a police vehicle, Alaa Massri saw another vehicle approaching a small group of protesters. Being the team's medic, she rushed to go aid whomever might have been injured but was stopped by 6-8 cops in riot gear. After repeatedly asking the police officers (Officer Corral, #41643) not to touch her, in a polite yet concerned manner, Ms. Massri attempted to walk away. Instead, she was surrounded and arrested. Alaa was then zip-tied and later charged with battery, resisting an officer with violence, and disorderly conduct. Witnesses observed that she was not acting in a disorderly fashion and was simply coming to the aid of an injured individual." Massri later had her hijab forcefully removed, following which her mugshot was taken and then disseminated to media. Massri was forced to remain without her head scarf for the remainder of her seven hours in detention. Similar incidents which violate the right to protest, Miranda rights (she was not read her rights when arrested) and most significantly her right to conscience through forcible removal of her hijab have been prosecuted in various U.S. cities and authorities have had to pay victims of their racist treatment substantial fines.
In the case of Breonna Taylor, killed in her home on March 13 by Louisville police serving a no-knock warrant, the mass protests decrying policy brutality and impunity have led two months later to the three officers involved in the shooting being placed on administrative leave. On June 23, one officer was fired for violating policies on the use of deadly force. Protesters continue to demand that the three officers be criminally charged and arrested for her killing.
The two vigilantes who killed Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Glynn County, Georgia, were finally indicted by a grand jury on charges, including malice and felony murder on June 24.
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