Four people involved in the widely discussed dismantling of a monument in Bristol, England, have been charged with criminal damage.
Seven months after a statue of 18th-century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse, and Sage Willoughby will appear in January before a Bristol court, where they will face criminal proceedings. What happens next will be closely watched, as the events surrounding the Colston statue rank among the defining ones of the groundswell of activism that followed the police killing of George Floyd this past summer in Minneapolis.
Last June, a group of protesters removed the statue from its pedestal, rolled it toward a nearby harbor, and dropped it into the water. The statue was later retrieved, and in its place an unofficial monument of a much different kind appeared: a sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester Jen Reid by artist Marc Quinn. (The Quinn monument lasted less than 24 hours before it was removed by Bristol officials.)
Protesters had targeted the Colston statue because the figure it portrayed was involved in the Royal African Company, a key enterprise in the British slave trade during the 17th century. The harbor where the work ended up briefly submerged was a site where enslaved Africans had been thrown overboard. “This piece has been on my mind as a problem for years,” artist Hew Locke told ARTnews in June.
No arrests were made when the monument was toppled. In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service, a British entity that conducts criminal prosecutions, said, “The Crown Prosecution Service reminds all concerned that criminal proceedings against all four are now active and that they have the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”