The recent gruesome murder of George Floyd – an African-American who died when a White police officer knelt on his neck in broad daylight in the streets of Minneapolis, USA – has ignited race consciousness across the globe, with various rights groups, including the renowned Black Lives Matter, making their voices heard. The United States has indeed never witnessed anything of this magnitude, since the police-related deaths of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Manuel Ellis and others. Not even the skirmishes resulting from the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King in 1968 could be compared with this. Mayhem, in capital letters, suddenly prowled the streets of America, with various homes, offices, governmental establishments and infrastructural facilities destroyed and razed to the ground, culminating in Donald Trump’s inefficacious, ill-timed piece of ‘advice’ related through his usual medium: ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’.
And now, it has spread to the United Kingdom. People are calling for racial equality and an end to what they regard as ‘police violence’. But, while this is valid, the modus operandi of the demonstrators is, to me, antithetical to common sense. Put succinctly, it has careered from being non-violent, peaceful protests into something more sinister, more diabolical – prompting the Prime Minister to assert that “a pocket of White supremacists has hijacked the movement.” Scores of police officers have been molested and brutalised, protesters injured, and the lawlessness goes unabated. Now, members of the Black Lives Matter and the Anti-Racist Movements are making another demand: monuments erected years gone by, to remind the country of its colonial past, should disappear from our streets. And hardly had the dust settled, when the bronze statue of slave merchant, Edward
Colston, erected in Bristol since 1895, was pulled down and cast unceremoniously into the river. The statue of Robert Milligan, himself a slave merchant, was also removed from the London Dockyards by the Canal and River Trust, to “accommodate the wishes of the community.” Countless demonstrators are also arguing that the statues of Cecil Rhodes, the 19th century imperialist, and the Indian nationalist, Mohandas K. Gandhi, be made to “take a swim”, a reference to the treatment meted on Colston’s effigy. The Mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan, in giving the exercise his full support, hinted that the City of London has to “face the truth” concerning its links to the transatlantic slave trade.
Anytime I see these statues being defaced and pulled down, a part of me hurts – and before you lambast me of being ‘ignorant of history’, please hear me out: I am only reacting to my sacred belief that two wrongs do not make a right. Rather than vandalising these statues, there should be a more realistic approach to solving this apparent logjam, and making representations to the authorities as to having them relocated to the museums does not appear a bad idea. And I hope I have not irked those at the other end of the divide, who are presently arguing vociferously that these statues remain where they are – on our streets – because of their ‘historical value’. To those who hold this viewpoint, I would humbly ask that you also consider the multi-ethnic nature of the United Kingdom, and the somewhat deleterious effects of having these imposing images of ex-slave merchants bestriding our
cities on glorified pedestals. Wouldn’t these symbols or the message they transmit, if any, be affronts to the collective psyches of BAME people, some of whose ancestors had been traded in the most dehumanising manner across the coast? Shouldn’t their feelings matter at all? Should we just pretend and carry on as if nothing is wrong? Only those suffering from intellectual and moral confusion would wish that this piece of history be swept under the carpet rather than addressed head-on. Permit me again to reiterate my position: vandalising, defacing, desecrating or destroying these statues, statuettes and other monuments is not a pragmatic way of voicing out dissent, as the act itself translates to criminal damage, contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 – a punishable offence.
I honestly do not think that the location of a particular monument diminishes its historical value, in so far as that monument itself is not dismembered. In essence, to those who want these statues to remain in their towns or localities, the names of these towns could be inscribed on the base of these statues as they are being relocated safely to our museums. This should solve the problem and silence dissenting voices, whether coming from the Black Lives Matter Movement, the Anti-Racist Group or those the Prime Minister referred to as “far right thugs”.
I fear that if this ripple is not well contained, it could turn into a tidal wave, with more destruction, agonies and sorrows – not to mention state funds that would be frittered away unnecessarily. Let’s give peace a chance, and help the government in its genuine efforts at combating the spread of coronavirus, which may escalate as protesters are mixing up freely. In the final analysis, we are all tied to the same umbilical cord, being children of the one Supreme Being. The present disturbances will not produce a victor or a loser, nor will any party be decorated with garlands.
Enough is enough.