London’s landmarks are set to be reviewed to ensure they better reflect the “achievements and diversity” of the city, following the tearing down of a monument to slave trader Edward Colston by protesters in Bristol.
In a statement on Tuesday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was important to “celebrate the achievements and diversity of all in our city” and to commemorate “those who have made London what it is.” That includes “questioning which legacies are being celebrated,” the statement said.
A new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm has been established. It will be made up of historians, as well as community and arts leaders, and will review statues, memorials, murals and street art before making recommendations.
Khan said it was an “uncomfortable truth” that the country as a whole and its capital in particular “owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade.”
Elaborating on the announcement of the commission, Khan told Sky News’s Kay Burley that the city “shouldn’t be commemorating or memorialising people who were slavers,” and that he suspects the commission “may take down slavers’ statues.”
Khan credited the Black Lives Matter protests, which have spread from the US to the UK, following the brutal police killing of George Floyd, for bringing the issue to public attention.
The toppling of the statue of Colston, who made his fortune in the West African slave trade, prompted immediate suggestions for other British monuments that could meet the same fate. Statues to wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and white supremacist mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, among many other questionable characters, have been defaced with graffiti.
The furor over the tearing down of political statues has also prompted a political row, with Home Secretary Priti Patel
calling it “utterly disgraceful” behavior carried out by mobs, while Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees said the presence of a statue to Colston had been “an affront” and he felt no “sense of loss” about it having been removed.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran drew both praise and criticism on Monday for calling on the government to “speed up”the removal of statues to slave merchants.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson
has warned that people who harm public property will face “the full force of the law,” though he also admitted that the anger felt by many in Britain is “founded on a cold reality.”
The Metropolitan Police said 36 people were arrested and 35 officers suffered injuries in London on Sunday, after some protests turned violent. More demonstrations are planned for Tuesday in the British capital, as Floyd’s funeral is set to take place in Houston, Texas.