The Bristol Black Lives Matter Protest

Colston statue is thrown into Bristol docks

Statement from the Chair of SARI, Irvin Campbell on behalf of our Board of Trustees

The events over the past 2 weeks since that fateful day that George Floyd’s life was so wrongfully taken have been charged with emotions across the US and reverberating also in the UK. As a charity that has fought racism, hate crime and injustice for nearly 30 years, this has been a pivotal point in our history of race equality and race relations. Bristol has often been at the forefront and in the news when it comes to protesting for the rights of black and minority ethnic people. We played a key part in the development of race equality legislation with the Race Relations Act 1965 crystallised by the Bristol bus boycott, organised by Guy Bailey and Paul Stephenson in 1963 after Bailey was refused an employment interview because he was black. No doubt the stand that Bristol’s communities took at that time to argue for human rights would not have been popular and would have divided opinion. With regards to events this weekend in Bristol, SARI issued a statement to say that whilst we stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter mission and those who wanted to protest on the streets, we would not attend face to face as a charity in recognition of those lives lost already and still at risk from coronavirus. Instead we supported the ‘Take the Knee’ show of support and continued to do our frontline work supporting our clients facing the frontline of racism and hate crime.

With regards to the debate over whether the statue of Colston should have been pulled down or not and whether the police should have stepped in or not, we cannot condone criminal acts and we are aware that an investigation is ongoing into those responsible. However, we join many others who say that the statue of a slaver who was as culpable as Edward Colston of causing the death and suffering of so many Black Africans and profiteering so blatantly from the slave trade does not have a place in the our city centre and would be better placed in a museum as a part of history to be learned from for our future generations.

With regards to the policing of the protest, SARI can only commend Avon & Somerset Constabulary for their exceptional policing of this huge gathering of people on such an emotive topic. We have seen many examples of policing gone wrong in recent days where officers and protestors have been hurt. Yesterday, our police force managed to bring the event to a close with no member of the public or officer hurt, no arrests and the peace retained despite the protest trying to go off in different directions at various points in the event. They have made it clear that they will not allow criminal acts to go unchecked and this includes the bringing down of the Colston statue. Investigations are under way and our criminal justice system will be responsible for the outcome. SARI is always the critical friend of our local constabulary and therefore it is only right that we should support them when we feel they have got it right.

Going forward, SARI will be doing all it can to support Bristol and the other areas we serve in Avon & Somerset to fight for justice and the best outcomes for all those victims of hate crime that bravely come forward to ask for support and that includes those who feel they have faced injustice at the hands of statutory bodies. We have been doing this for nearly 30 years and it will be business as usual for us though the immense support we have seen from the black and minority ethnic and the white community locally and nationally for our cause has been a source of strength for our very hard-working team who go above and beyond to make a difference.

Irvin Campbell, Chair, on behalf of SARI

Image by Keir Gravil via Flickr