I’m not suggesting that the Colston verdict will lead to an orgy of statue dunking. Of course it won’t set a precedent and lead to immediate anarchy, as some conservative commentators seem to be arguing.
The government’s wisest and most just course of action would have been to point out their disapproval, but generously decline to prosecute. After all, the protestors had understandable reasons for their actions, and we all have sympathy with them. Surely nobody wants to appear to defend and celebrate slavery. Having achieved their goal, these particular protestors seem unlikely to pose any further threat to society. I hope there aren’t many more public statues to unreformed slavers in Britain.
It is not encouraging that the Crown Prosecution Service went ahead with this case. It looks like an explicit attempt to resist the social justice movement: part of the famous “Culture Wars”. This, perhaps, gave the jury good reason to doubt that they could trust the judiciary, one of the three pillars of the establishment, to deliver a lenient sentence if they convicted. It is in exactly these ways: the decision who to prosecute and how severe the sentences are, that our penal system can be attacked as biased and unjust.
However, that should not have been the jury’s concern, in delivering their verdict. If the legal system needs reformation, then they (and we all) should campaign for that, in whatever legal way we can. In taking up the role of jurors, these 12 good citizens had the responsibility of enacting the law as fairly and impartially as possible. Deciding to acquit people because you like them, simply reinforces and approves another flaw in our ad hoc and accidental legal system, demonstrating that its primary role is not to exercise justice, but to exercise arbitrary power.
Our condemnation of slavery, of racism, of prejudice derives from our belief in the essential equality of all people. Surely one of the greatest ways to demonstrate and to defend this principle is to maintain a rule of law that treats everybody equally and impartially. Equality demands consistency in law. We can’t just acquit our chums, no matter how lovely or good-looking they are. That’s not ok.
Because if we do that, so can all the populist autocrats, all the identitarian nationalists who aim to dismantle all that we value and venerate in society.
Donald Trump simply pardoned any of the fixers convicted of breaking the law on his behalf. Such traditional flaws in the American system (partially) explain how this moron was able to impose every arbitrary and tyrannical whim in his tiny, fevered brain on his tormented nation.
Let’s not be like him.