Several statues in London were boarded up on Friday, as authorities expected anti-racism protests to take place over the weekend. The demonstrations in the UK are part of a global response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in the US city of Minneapolis.
Protesters in the UK have called for a re-examination into how the country’s historical legacy of racism has been marked in public spaces.
This has led to calls for the removal of statues, monuments street and building names commemorating historical figures from Britain’s colonial.
It has also led to the vandalism of several statues and monuments, including that of former WWII Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Police worry about the possibility of anti-racist and far-right protesters gathering and possibly clashing. Authorities have promised a “robust” response to vandalism and violence, but have also urged people to stay home.
“Extreme far-right groups who advocate hatred and division are planning counter-protests, which means that the risk of disorder is high,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said.
Johnson: ‘We cannot edit the past’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday lashed out against the vandalism on Churchill’s statues and said the protest movement had been “sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence.”
“It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protesters,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history,” he said.
Johnson, who wrote a biography on Churchill, admitted that the wartime prime minister “sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today.” But he added that Churchill “was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial.”
Churchill is revered by many in the UK as the man who led the country to victory against Nazi Germany.
But he also expressed racist and anti-Semitic views and critics blame him for denying food to India during the 1943 famine, where more than 2million people died.
Not just Churchill
The debate over statues in the UK kicked off after protesters in Bristol tore down and threw into a river the statue of Edward Colston, who made a fortune in the 17th century from the slave trade.
In Bannockburn, central Scotland, protesters also defaced a statue to King Robert the Bruce, accusing the man who led the Scots to victory against the English in 1314 of being racist.
Residents in Liverpool’s Penny Lane, which was immortalized in The Beatles’ 1967 song, scrubbed graffiti daubed on street signs that claimed it was named after a slave trader.
At Cambridge University, environmental protesters defaced a memorial window honoring geneticist and statistician Ronald Fisher, who was also a proponent of eugenics.
In response to the uproar, London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals announced they would remove two statues in their premises, including that of its benefactor Thomas Guy, because of their links to slavery.
Activists are said to have crowd-sourced list of more than 60 statues and monuments across Britain that they say “celebrate slavery and racism” and should be removed.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines