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Snippet of Code Switch: The Protests Heard 'Round the World

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station description What's CODE SWITCH? It's the fearless conversations about race that you've been wai... read more
Code Switch
Duration: 07:20
How did a police killing in Minneapolis lead people thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to pull down the statue of a slave trader who's been dead for nearly three centuries? On this episode, we're going to the city of Bristol to tell the story.
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How did a police killing in Minneapolis lead people thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to pull down the statue of a slave trader who's been dead for nearly three centuries? On this episode, we're going to the city of Bristol to tell the story.
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you might have seen the videos. Two weeks after George Floyd's killing protesters there, top of the statue of a man named Edward Colston, the crowd of protesters cheered. A few, pushed and pulled and rolled the now spray painted statue toward the harbor. And then e oh, that story is a reminder of how much influence events here in the US have overseas and how some other countries are grappling with the same issues we are. Over the past couple of months, NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt and producer So Fiesta have been talking to people in Bristol to try and answer the question we posed at the very beginning of this episode. They also looked at the relationship police have with black people in Britain and why British cops have handled anti racist protests much more peacefully the cops have in the US We now go to Bristol for a special international episode of code switch. Frank Langfitt. Welcome to code switch. Hey, Gene, Pastry and great to be here. Tell us where you are. Yes, so right now I'm actually in the heart of Bristol and I'm standing next to the pedestal that held the Colston statue. for about 125 years. Bristol. Just so people know it's in the south west of England. It's about a 90 minute high speed train ride out from London. So for those of us in the States who have never heard of Edward Colston, what is the big deal here? Well, it's really interesting. Colston was Bristol's biggest philanthropist, and actually, I think a lot of people outside of Bristol would not have heard of him. But here in the city, his name was all over the place. The concert hall behind me, Colston Tower, which is is overlooking the statue, or what used to be the statue, um, schools, streets, all named after the guy. And until recently there was, as Sharon was mentioning, this big bronze statue of him, it stood more than 8 ft high over the square, and I was actually walking in today. There's this plaque that's still there. No one has tort it off. Yet that calls him quote one of the most virtuous and why sons of the city. One of things that plaque never mentions is that Colston made a chunk of his fortune. The late 17th century shipping enslaved people across the Atlantic in exchange for sugar to sweeten the coffee and the T. That's such a part of British culture. Well, people in Bristol have been battling over this Colston statue for years. Take us back to that day in early June when it was torn down. Yes, so this was like two weeks after George Floyd was killed and thousands of people came out in the city. Ah, group of protesters made their way right down here. A few of them had ropes with him on. I was talking to a guy who was in the crowd that day. His name is Jayden Marston. He's actually from Oregon and was here with his dad living in the UK. The march stopped and I was like Wait, what's happening? And then a lot of people have gathered around the coast in Statue. It wasn't just black people. That was the tree, just like both people, white black people just together just pulling down the statue. And so Sophie and I, when we were here, we were talking to a variety of people about what happened that day, and one was a guy named Michael Jenkins. He's a documentary filmmaker, and he describes the scene after the statue hit the pavement. It was a feeling of euphoria, excitement. It was very emotional. You felt lots of different emotions. I mean, being there, seeing people jumping on the statue, screaming like This is for our ancestors. It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders. We don't have to walk past it every single day. As America City, I cannot condone criminal damage. But the statue was in the front. To me, I am of Jamaican heritage on. It is possible that Colston had owned kidnapped that made money off of one of my ancestors, so I don't mourn its passing. I had palpitations. My chest went tight. I was for a good hour. I was reeling, but I thought, That's amazing. That's an amazing piece of history happening right before my very eyes in my own city. So in addition, toe Michael, you just heard from, uh, Yvonne Mina. She was a protest organizer. Bargain Reese. He's Bristol's mayor. He describes himself as mixed race. He's a very interesting guy we're gonna hear from more. And Mike Norton. He's the editor of the local newspaper, the Bristol Post So why did the people who are out there that day say that the killing of George Floyd have such an impact there? Well, some of the factors are gonna be very familiar to people in the States. They're very similar three audacity of that killing, of course. Power of social media, pent up frustration and fear because people here were in lock down as well. But there's a specific gene context with Bristol. That's really interesting. You know, Activists had spent years trying to get the statue removed or put up another plaque explaining Colston slaving past. And they had It was like zero progress. So Floyd's killing unleashed kind of what had been brewing racial frustration here. And frankly, Colston Statue just became a big target. Mhm. So were there other factors specific to Bristol? Yeah, there were. You know, when you talk to people, you try to dig a little deeper. Some people talk about this shared history of black people on either side of the Atlantic. They said that also figured into this. You must be Michael s. So Michael Jenkins, that documentary filmmaker I was talking about he sees a connection between the killing of George Floyd and America with the state sanctioned slave trade here centuries earlier from the stock set sail, you know, ships that would then go on to embark on this, you know, horrific trade. These waters have a really significant part to play in the movement of African people, both to the Americas to the Caribbean. So So Colston was the deputy governor of the Royal African Company, and they had a monopoly on the African slave trade here. And when Coulson was with the firm was shipped tens of thousands of enslaved people to the Caribbean. Um estimated one in five died on the crossing and were tossed overboard. Here's Michael Jenkins again living in Bristol. We understand the history of the city on. Do you know the issues that the city has with even acknowledging the part it played in the genocide of black people through the slave trader, you know, and Jenkins says, the killing of George Floyd. From his perspective, it's really a reminder of the past. It just brings back all the things that you talk about us faras. You know, the state verse black people around the world now, Marvin Reason the mayor, he says the killing resonated as well because of the modern connections between African Americans and black Britons, Many prominent African Americans are heroes to black people in the UK Frederick Douglas, Paul Robeson, Martin King, Mohammed Ali was one of the first names I knew was a young kid growing up. So we've got to recognize the profile that there was to African American history and culture around the world. It's huge coming up after the break. We're going to talk about how transatlantic family ties play into this story, and we're also going to discuss how police officers do their jobs in the UK versus the U. S.
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