Symbols of ‘racist past’ topple amid global BLM protests; New Zealand reports no active COVID-19 cases

Symbols of 'racist past' topple amid global BLM protests; New Zealand reports no active COVID-19 cases

The World staff

The area where the statue of Edward Colston stood is seen, after protesters pulled it down and pushed into the docks, following the death of George Floyd, Bristol, Britain, June 8, 2020


Matthew Childs/Reuters


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Confederate statues in the US have been toppled or defaced as protesters across the country demand a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations and civil unrest around the world following George Floyd’s killing by police officers in Minneapolis has pushed officials to hasten the removal of Confederate and other controversial “artworks that gild the system” and remain “vestiges of a racist past.”

The outrage has brought about a similar reckoning in other countries, as well. In Bristol, England, a statue of Edward Colston, a British slave trader, was toppled and pushed into the docks on Sunday. Some 30,000 people in Belgium have signed petitions to remove statues of King Leopold II, the country’s colonial-era ruler who decimated Congo, enslaving and killing millions of people in the late 1800s.

The moment harkens back to historic images in recent memory, such as dismantling monuments to Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein and others. From 2017, The New York Times looks at a visual history of iconoclasm.  

What The World is following

A majority of Minneapolis City Council members said they will “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” Mayor Jacob Frey said he supports reform over dismantling. Abolishing the police has been one of several demands from some protesters, but a debate over the future of policing in the US may turn to examples from elsewhere. One potential example is the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland. Born out of the Good Friday Peace Agreement and extensive community outreach, the commission has some success changing the composition and culture of the police force, though many argue more needs to be done.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she did “a little dance” upon learning there were no active cases of COVID-19 in the country. New Zealand has moved to the lowest of a four-tier alert system ahead of schedule, allowing businesses to reopen and no longer requiring social distancing. However, borders will remain closed to foreigners. 

That success is not matched in Brazil, where the capital of Brasilia has become the newest hotspot for the virus. 

From The World & Living on EarthUS may be violating international law in its response to protesters, UN expert says

A Seattle police officer wears a “mourning band” for fallen officers over his badge, obscuring the badge number, as Seattle police guard the department headquarters downtown during a rally and march calling for a defunding of Seattle police, in Seattle, Washington, on June 3, 2020.


Reuters/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

International human rights advocates observing how the US is handling the protests have said the US may be violating international law. The World spoke to UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard on the use of force by US police: “At least on the basis of the videos that I have watched and the reporting that I have read, there appears to be repeated violations of international law — in particular of two principles that should guide the use of force by police in terms of handling protest: necessity and proportionality.”

Also: Former CIA analyst sees parallels between Trump protest response and social unrest abroad

Big cat ownership in the US is a big problem

The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that more tigers live in America than remain in the wild. Most live in small cages like the one pictured here.


Rachel Nuwer

“Tiger King,” the Netflix documentary series about the infamous tiger breeder Joe Exotic, has taken America by storm. But while the show may be entertaining to some, its subject is highly problematic: Private big cat ownership in the US is dangerous and the animals suffer greatly for the success or pleasure of their owners.

Global Hit

Singing in Swahili, Luhya, Dholuo and English, award-winning group Sauti Sol from Kenya recently dropped their newest album. The group “pride[s] themselves on storytelling as an East African tradition that permeates music from that region.


Screengrab from YouTube

In case you missed itListen: Protesters worldwide face controversial police tactics

Protesters raise their fists during a demonstration in memory of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black Frenchman who died in a 2016 police operation which some have likened to the death of George Floyd in the United States, on the Place de la Republique in Lille, France, June 4, 2020.


Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

The tactics used by police forces to control protesters around the world over the death of George Floyd have included the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. Use of those instruments may violate international law, experts say. And, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet, has retracted a scientific article about the effects of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19. Plus, following months of a liberal approach to social distancing, the Swedish government announced last month that summer camps are allowed to open this season under certain guidelines.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

Felling of slave trader statue prompts fresh look at British history

Felling of slave trader statue prompts fresh look at British history

People observe the base of the statue of British slave trader Edward Colston, after protesters pulled it down and pushed into the docks, following the death of George Floyd, Bristol, Britain, June 8, 2020.


Matthew Childs/Reuters


The toppling by anti-racism protesters of a statue of Edward Colston, who made a fortune in the 17th century from trading in West African slaves, in the English port city of Bristol has given new urgency to a debate about how Britain should confront some of the darkest chapters of its history.

The Edward Colston statue was torn down and thrown into Bristol harbor on Sunday by a group of demonstrators taking part in a worldwide wave of protests.

Statues of figures from Britain’s imperialist past have in recent years become the subject of controversies between those who argue that such monuments merely reflect history and those who say they glorify racism.

Protesters tear down a statue of Edward Colston during a protest against racial inequality in Bristol, Britain, June 7, 2020 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.


Mohiudin Malik/via Reuters

By taking matters into their own hands, the protesters raised the temperature of a debate that had previously remained confined to the realms of marches, petitions and newspaper columns.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the removal of the statue was a criminal act.

“The PM fully understands the strength of feeling on this issue. But in this country where there is strong feeling, we have democratic processes which can resolve these matters,” the spokesman said.

But others countered that such processes had failed to recognize the pain caused by the legacy of slavery.

“People who say — authorities should take statues down after discussion. Yes. But it isn’t happening. Bristol’s been debating Edward Colston for years and wasn’t getting anywhere,” said historian and broadcaster Kate Williams on Twitter.

‘Personal affront’

A street and several buildings in the city are still named after Colston, and the plinth where the statue stood bears the original inscription from 1895, which praises Colston as “virtuous and wise.”

The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said he did not support social disorder, but the community was navigating complex issues that had no binary solutions.

“I would never pretend that the statue of a slaver in the middle of Bristol, the city in which I grew up, and someone who may well have owned one of my ancestors, was anything other than a personal affront to me,” said Rees, who has Jamaican roots.

Bristol police said they made a tactical decision not to intervene because that could have caused worse disorder.

“Whilst I am disappointed that people would damage one of our statues, I do understand why it’s happened, it’s very symbolic,” said police chief Andy Bennett.

Even Britain’s wartime hero, Winston Churchill, was under renewed scrutiny: a statue of him on Parliament Square in London was sprayed on Sunday with graffiti that read “Churchill was a racist.”

Churchill expressed racist and anti-Semitic views and critics blame him for denying food to India during the 1943 famine which killed more than two million people. Some Britons have long felt that the darker sides of his legacy should be given greater prominence.

These debates in Britain echo controversies in the United States, often focused on statues of confederate generals from the Civil War, and in South Africa, where Cape Town University removed a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes in 2015.

By Estelle Shirbon/Reuters