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Acquitted for throwing the statue of a slave trader into the river

Several protesters throw down the statue of Edward Colston, in the United Kingdom. / EFE

Bristol jury decision unsettles politicians and commentators embroiled in the ongoing culture war

Four participants in the demolition of the statue of the slave dealer Edward Colston were acquitted this week in Bristol of the charge of having committed a crime of damages. The decision has caused astonishment among politicians and conservative commentators. One of them, Darren Grimes, provoked the exultant left by encouraging the desecration of Karl Marx’s grave in London, “because it is legal time.”

The events of that June 7, 2021 are not disputed. A demonstration called by anti-racist groups, two weeks after the murder of a disarmed black man by a Minneapolis policeman, reached the commercial and civic center of the city where the figure of the slave trader stood, who was also a benefactor of hospitals, schools or churches.

Sage Willoughby climbed up the statue and made Colston a necklace from the two ropes carried by Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham. The protesters were then able to pull them off the statue from the plinth that supported it. Once shot down, Jake Skuse encouraged people to roll the metal figure of the reviled down the street and finally throw it into the waters of the nearby marina.

In court proceedings, the Crown Prosecutor’s Office had to convince the twelve members of the jury that the defendants had damaged someone else’s property – the City Council owns the statue on behalf of the inhabitants of the southwestern city of England – that They did so on purpose and without any legal excuse to justify their actions.

The defense of the ‘Colston Four’ developed their arguments mainly on the last point. The allegedly criminal actions were legally justified, for their intention to avoid the commission of at least two crimes: one of public exposure of indecent materials and another against the law of public order, which punishes the exhibition of something abusive, which may afflict others .

The defendants also alleged that they did not cause damage to the statue, now protected and displayed in a museum, with graffiti and banners. That it is owned by the people of Bristol, whose City Council did not heed the requests to withdraw it. And also, that British and European courts have protected controversial actions by protesters in the name of the right of expression.

In a jury trial, the magistrate reminds his members, before retiring to deliberate his decision, the proven facts and describes the legal questions that they have to answer in their minds and in conversation. By 11 against one, they decided that the four are not guilty of an aggravated crime of damages. The verdict is not explained, does not admit appeal and does not create a mandatory precedent.

Willoughby, the youngest, at 22 years old, and the only one of the four who did not wear the shirt designed by the artist Banksy to help his defense, proclaimed outside the court: “It is a victory for those in the court! right side of History! » He then knelt down and composed, fist raised with a black glove, the gesture associated with the protests of the ‘Black lives matter’ (BLM) movement.

A commentator for the weekly ‘The Spectator’ assured that the verdict “is a victory for ‘values’ and not for the law.” “The Secret Barrister”, one of the most prominent of the pleiad of lawyers who publish blogs or daily comments on matters of law and the administration of Justice, dismantled that forced opposition between values ​​and law, which would always advance in continuous crossing.

The Minister Attorney for the State, Suella Braverman, considers referring the case to the Court of Appeal to analyze the guidelines of the judge to the jury. The Government is asked to change the law, which also protects, without guaranteeing what a jury will say, whoever desecrates Marx’s grave. Then came Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Somerset MP caricatured as “the MP for the 18th century.”

When Theresa May wanted to charge a fee to community residents to stay in the country, the radical ‘Brexiter’ stopped her in her tracks. He also considered it immoral for his colleague, Sajid Javid, to deprive a Londoner girl of nationality, lured by Islamists to marry in Syria when she was underage and who wanted to go home. This time, Rees-Mogg has ruled that “the jury system is one of our greatest monuments, the sublime protector of our freedoms.”

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