‘We are here to fight for black lives’: Thousands gather for Bristol Black Lives Matter protest

Avon and Somerset police estimated 10,000 people were in attendance

“This is not a photo opportunity, this is not a motive, we are here to fight for black lives”, declared an organiser to thousands of demonstrators on College Green at the Bristol Black Lives Matter protest.

The peaceful protest was organised in solidarity with a large number of protests which have taken place in the US against police brutality and racism, sparked by the death of George Floyd by a white police officer.

The march saw the tearing down of the city centre statue of Edward Colston, an 18th century slave trader, which has since been thrown in the harbour. This follows multiple petitions to have the statue removed.

The rally began at 1pm, with safety announcements encouraging peaceful protesting and PPE, followed by an hour of impassioned speeches.

‘People on top count on our silence to keep the status quo’

One of the speakers related her experiences of racism in school to the crowd. When she was six, a white child at school came up to her and said, “You’re dirty, you shouldn’t be playing with that puzzle because you’re dirty”.

Following this, she told the crowd: “I am here today with my six year old self, fighting for the same shit that my grandma fought for as a black woman, that my granddad fought for as a black man, that my mother fought for as a black single mother.

“It makes me sad that we still have to do this. You can’t appreciate black culture but hate black people.

“For those of you asking, “What can we do as allies?” you need to educate yourselves, you need to radicalise yourself because I already know this. How come you don’t?

“People on top count on our silence to keep the status quo.”

Another speaker said: “The UK is not innocent, remember that. This protest should not be necessary, but it is, because my black life matters, my black brothers and sisters black lives matter, the american black lives matter, British black lives matter, Grenfell’s black lives matter.”

‘A lot of our buildings are named after notorious slave traders. It’s very, very insensitive to black students’

At the rally, The Bristol Tab spoke to protester Faisa Mahamud, a 20-year-old University of Bristol student, who discussed UoB’s links with slavery: “The entire city of Bristol has been built on the slave trade and slave money. One person who is an obvious culprit to that is Edward Colston.

“Going to the University of Bristol, a lot of our buildings, halls and streets are named after notorious slave traders. We’ve been told that it’s a part of Bristol’s history and that we should embrace both the good and the bad, but it’s very, very insensitive to black students.”

Faisa (right) and her friend Mayowa (left). Faisa’s sign states “Shame on you Bristol. My halls of uni, streets and exam rooms are named after a slave trader”

After the speeches, College Green plunged into silence as the names of black victims of police brutality and racism were called out and remembered. The silence lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds, symbolising the length of time the white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

The silence was deafening.

The march to Castle Park set off at 2pm, with people chanting “Black Lives Matter” through the city centre and proudly holding their placards to the sky.

Protesters ready to march with placards in hand

Signs such as “We taking on the system ’cause it broke” and “White silence = Violence” were paraded through the city centre

Protesters triumphantly stood on the plinth where the statue of Colston used to be

After the statue was torn down, the march proceeded to Castle Park for more speeches. In a statement, Avon and Somerset Police estimated that the demonstration was attended by 10,000 people, “The vast majority of those who came to voice their concerns about racial inequality and injustice did so peacefully and respectfully.”

On what has been a historic day for Bristol, the cries of “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace” echoed throughout the city for the final time at Castle Park.

Yet, the movement shows no signs of slowing down. In the words of a Black Lives Matter protester: “It’s just the beginning”.

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Photo credits: Jake Loader

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