Toppled, beheaded, daubed: five controversial statues

A demonstrator reacts in front of graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill, in Parliament Square, during a Black Lives Matter protest in London on June 7 2020, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
A demonstrator reacts in front of graffiti on a statue of Winston Churchill, in Parliament Square, during a Black Lives Matter protest in London on June 7 2020, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Image: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Protests in the wake of African American George Floyd's killing by a white police officer in the US have led to the unceremonious toppling and vandalism of statues of controversial historical and political figures.

Here are five symbolic examples:

Bristol: slave trader Edward Colston

On Sunday, in England's southwestern port of Bristol, protesters pulled down a bronze statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it in the local harbour.

Colston was a leading figure in a royal slave trading company that sold 100,000 west Africans in the Caribbean and the Americas after first branding its initials on their chests.

But his name remains attached to streets and buildings in honour of his funding of local hospitals and schools for the poor, and officials fished the statue out.

US: Christopher Columbus

Overnight on Tuesday, in Boston, a statue of Christopher Columbus was beheaded, in the park named after him.

A Columbus statue was also vandalised in downtown Miami with red paint, and another was dragged into a lake earlier in the week in Richmond, Virginia.

The Italian explorer, long hailed as the so-called discoverer of "The New World," is considered by many to have spurred years of genocide against indigenous groups in the Americas.

He is regularly denounced in a similar way to Civil War generals of the pro-slavery South.

US: Jefferson Davis 

On Wednesday, a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America during the 1861-1865 Civil War, which opposed the pro-slavery South and the abolitionist North, was toppled in Richmond, Virginia.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the same day for removal of 11 Confederate statues from the US Capitol, part of a nationwide push to dismantle such memorials after the Floyd killing.

According to a 2016 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLC), which is specialised in extremist movements and civil rights, more than 1,500 confederate symbols are still on show in public places in the US, most in the South.

Belgium: Leopold II

The Belgian port city of Antwerp took down a statue of late King of the Belgians Leopold II on Tuesday, days after it was daubed with red paint by anti-racism protesters.

Statues of Leopold have long been a target of activists because of his record of brutal colonial rule in Belgium's former central African colonies, notably the then "Congo Free State", now the independent Democratic Republic of Congo

It has been removed by officials from its public pedestal next to an Antwerp church and taken for restoration to a museum where it will be examined before deciding what steps to take next.

Churchill: graffitied in Prague, London

In Prague a statue to Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill was covered in graffiti early on Thursday, daubed with the words "Black Lives Matter" in solidarity with the anti-racist movement in the US.

A central London statue of Churchill was also defaced, with the words "was a racist" with protesters blaming his policies for the death of millions during famine in the Indian state of Bengal in 1943.


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