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Keir Starmer backs police who take the knee during Black Lives Matters protests

Keir Starmer backs police who take the knee during Black Lives Matters protests

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Photo: LBC)

3 min read

Sir Keir Starmer has backed police officers who choose to take the knee during Black Lives Matter protests.

The Labour leader said individual officers were “best placed” to make decisions on whether to show their support for the nationwide protests against racial injustice.

But he criticised those who had pulled down a controversial statue of a slave trader in Bristol.

This weekend saw a string of largely peaceful protests across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in the United States.

But there were a number of arrests in London after some demonstrators clashed with police, while a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and thrown into the River Avon in Bristol.

During the protests, some officers have been pictured taking the knee - a protest symbol that began in the United States.

Pressed on whether he backed those officers in his new LBC phone-in show, Sir Keir said: “I think a number of officers want to.

“Obviously, the violence against them is completely unacceptable as Commissioner Cressida Dick has said.”

He added: “Nobody, but nobody, thinks there's anything good about that violence.

“But officers taking the knee where they want to, where things are peaceful, I think is a very good thing.

“It should be an individual decision...

“There's a lot of discretion in policing, handling a situation and individual officers that know their communities are best placed I think to make those decisions.”

But the Labour leader condemned the way the Colston statue in Bristol had been removed.

The 18ft, Grade II listed statue was erected in 1895 to honour Mr Colston, who led the Royal African Company, which transported slaves between West Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas.

Those on board the company’s ships were kept in unhygienic and cramped conditions and branded with the firm’s initials - RAC.

Thousands died during the voyages.

Sir Keir said of the statue’s toppling: “Yeah, it shouldn't have been done in that way — completely wrong to pull a statue down like that.”

But he added: “Stepping back that statue should have been taken down a long, long time ago. 

“You can't in 21st century Britain have, you know, a slaver on a statue. A statue is there to honour people, and you can't have that in 21st century Britain that statue should have been brought down properly with consent and put, I would say the museum. 

“This was a man who was responsible for 100,000 people being moved from Africa to the Caribbean as slaves, including women and children who were branded on their chests with the name of the company that he ran.

“Of the hundred thousand 20,000 died en Route and they were chucked in the sea. He should not be in a statue in Bristol or anywhere else.

“He should be a museum because we need to understand this. That should have been taken down a long time ago.” 

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