Justice is served: Colston 4 found not guilty

Cleo Lake reflects on the acquittal of the Colston 4, considering where we must go next in the quest for justice.

An image of Cleo Lake
An image of Cleo Lake
Cleo Lake

This article originally appeared on Cleo Lake Creativity, on 5 January 2021.

The ‘Colston 4’ did what needed to be done and their actions have significantly contributed to propelling an intergenerational and international cause, presenting a substantial and symbolic marker towards the historic battle for justice concerning crimes committed against humanity through the Transatlantic Traffic of Enslaved Afrikans commonly referred to as the ‘slave trade’. As stated in the trial summing up: “Colston’s statue normalised abuse. It condoned the shrugging acceptance of racism. It celebrated the achievements of a racist mass murderer. The continued existence of that statue was a racist hate crime.”

The focus now should continue to be on centring the descendants of the enslaved, better general information and education such as the Cargo Classroom and The World Reimagined initiatives, and greater empathy in our society so that we can finally achieve reconciliation, healing and repair from such a colossal weight of injury and harm that has been caused by the Transatlantic Trafficking of enslaved Afrikans at the hands of characters like Colston & others whose statues and portraits still pollute civic public spaces including the Crown Court itself.

With growing consciousness of Afrikan descendants, many empower themselves by shifting the narrative and language on the subject, dismissing where possible the term ‘slave trade’ and labelling such earthly & humanitarian disasters that occurred (then and now) as part of the Maangamizi framing much of it within ‘Afriphobia’ and the architects involved as Maangamizi criminals.

This struggle for Afrikans and their descendants to be heard on the matter and the quest for justice has been a long one that is ongoing. Starting on the coasts of Afrika where enslavement was resisted from the outset, to the Haitian revolution and all attempts since to enable a more accurate portrayal of history and find some redress and justice. People here too have always spoken out, long-standing campaigner Kofi Mawuli Klu often refers to Ann Yearsley and the Bristol and Clifton Ladies’ Anti-slavery Society. Mention should also be made of Countering Colston and Bristol Radical History Group in their tenacity and commitment in more recent years to both dismantle the celebration of Colston in the city and expose Colston’s true and full history.

It has been good to meet and get to know the only woman of the Colston 4 trial. Rhian Graham is an empathetic ally who gave a strong defence in court. I am sure she will be an inspiration to many women and others worldwide today and when they read the history books in years to come.

“That was my expression of my allyship and solidarity with people of colour. I believe that by removing that statue we were removing a symbol of great harm and oppression that towered over our community and offended so many. I believe that act was an act of compassion and solidarity, not violence.”

Earlier this year The Legacy Steering Group commissioned a consultation (Project T.R.U.T.H) encouraging Afrikan heritage citizens of Bristol to share their thoughts and opinions about what Bristol should do in terms of recognising its role and legacy in the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Afrikans, (TTEA, formerly termed the ‘Transatlantic slave trade’). The report from Project TRUTH, will be released on January 18th. This unprecedented report will form a solid foundation, information and road map for Afrikan descendants and institutions alike in terms of how we move forwards covering many areas from memorials to Afrikan ancestors (or as Onallee from Hope immersive describes as ‘Founders of the City’ ), to health initiatives, institutional accountability and equitable rebalancing – the focus is primarily on the long term.

Other institutions have also begun important work including Bristol University and the various name changes to schools and buildings across the city. We must continue into 2022 with sustained zeal in the spirit of both the history made on June 7th 2020 and that of the reparations motion that was brought to and passed by Bristol City Council on March 2nd 2021, so that we continue to topple metaphorically or otherwise, the remaining bastions that have been synonymous with dealing out inhumanity and racism, in order to achieve and realise the dreams of respect, unity and understanding within our diversities of culture and opinion.

We can, we WILL.