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George Floyd protests: Toppling of Bristol slave trader statue 'disgraceful', says home secretary

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The home secretary has said the toppling of a statue in Bristol by anti-racism protesters was "utterly disgraceful".

There were cheers as the statue of Edward Colston was yanked off its plinth and later sprayed with paint and dumped in the harbour.

"Sheer vandalism and disorder is completely unacceptable," said Priti Patel - who added that it would distract from the protesters' cause.

Avon and Somerset Police said it was investigating after a "small group" committed criminal damage.

Colston made his fortune off the back of the slave trade in the 17th century and helped build schools, churches and homes for the poor in Bristol.

A petition to remove the statue - which had stood for more than 120 years - had received 11,000 signatures.

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said in a statement the removal of the statue would "divide" opinion.

But he added it was "important to listen to those who found the statue to represent an affront to humanity and make the legacy of today about the future of our city, tackling racism and inequality".

After the statue was brought down, people laid placards on the ground and shouted "no justice, no peace" and "Black Lives Matter".

Some climbed on top of the plinth to deliver speeches or say a prayer and were widely applauded by the crowd.

Jasmine Boatswain, a graduate PE teacher, and her friends came to see where the statute had stood.

She said: "To see it ripped down is difficult to put into words. It really embodies the whole movement.

"We are not taking it anymore. We are sick to the teeth of having to experience racism and see racism in our faces.

"Even if you don't know anything about Black Lives Matter, just looking at this is such a powerful thing."

Manoel Bolutife Akure described the statue as "PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for the city".

"It is a first of many steps that needs to happen," he said.

"There is so much more that has to be taken down and so much more that needs to be changed."

Earlier, protester John McAllister, 71, tore down black bin bags used to hide the statue to denounce it in front of fellow protesters.

He said: "It says 'erected by the citizens of Bristol, as a memorial to one of the most virtuous and wise sons of this city'.

"The man was a slave trader. He was generous to Bristol but it was off the back of slavery and it's absolutely despicable.

"It's an insult to the people of Bristol."

The Bristol protests were attended by an estimated 10,000 people and there were no arrests, said police.

Superintendent Andy Bennett said: "The vast majority of those who came to voice their concerns about racial inequality and injustice did so peacefully and respectfully.

"The ongoing coronavirus pandemic added a different dynamic to what was always going to be a challenging policing operation."

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The demonstration was one of a number around the UK this weekend sparked by the killing of George Floyd in America nearly two weeks ago.

While some who turned out had face masks on, social distancing appeared to have been disregarded by many.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme "it is undoubtedly a risk" that the number of coronavirus cases would rise following the protests.

"I support very strongly the argument that is being made by those who are protesting for more equality and against discrimination, but the virus itself doesn't discriminate," said Mr Hancock.

"Gathering in large groups is temporarily against the rules precisely because it increases the risk of the spread of this virus."

Protests over the death of Mr Floyd have continued around the world since his death in Minneapolis on 25 May.

The 46-year-old was killed when a police officer handcuffed him and knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes despite him repeatedly saying he could not breathe.

Hundreds of thousands marched in cities across the US over the weekend, with events passing off overwhelmingly peaceful.

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