FOLLOWING a lively debate, county councillors voted in favour of a motion which makes clear the authority’s abhorrence of racism, prejudice and discrimination – past and present. Street names and monuments including a statue of slave-owning soldier Sir Thomas Picton are to be re-evaluated across Carmarthenshire.
A cross-party task and finish group will be set up to take the work forward, and efforts made to include colonialism, exploitation, discrimination and racism in Wales’s new school curriculum.
The motion supports the Black Lives Matter message – spawned by the killing George Floyd by a white policeman in the US – and pledges to work with black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities to identify and eradicate racism in Carmarthenshire.
The Picton statute is on Picton Terrace, Carmarthen.
Born in 1758 and hailing from Haverfordwest, Sir Thomas Picton was the highest-ranking British officer to die at the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815. His reputation had been tarnished while governor of Trinidad, in the Caribbean. It was there that he authorised torture to obtain a confession from 14-year-old Luisa Calderon – a mixed-race girl accused of stealing.
Picton served under the Duke of Wellington for many years and died after launching a bayonet attack at advancing French troops at Waterloo.
Statues in Cardiff and St Paul’s Cathedral commemorate his military service and valour, as well as the one in Carmarthen.
“Action is the only remedy to indifference,” said Cllr Cefin Campbell, who spoke in support for what was an amended motion at a meeting of the full council.
He said people from BAME communities in the UK were more likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, and die from Covid-19 and less likely to be employed and get social housing.
“When it comes to race, we should all be colour blind,” he said.
The amendment to Cllr Liam Bowen’s motion was put forward by Cllr Fozia Akhtar, who said it was important the council identified the needs of BAME communities.
“It’s something I’m passionate to follow through,” she said.
Cllr Glynog Davies cited the experiences of Ameer Davies-Rana, 23, who has spoken publicly of racist comments aimed his way while growing up in Ammanford.
“I am sure we all agree that we will do our best to improve this unacceptable situation,” said Cllr Davies.
Cllr Mair Stephens said the council had a good track record in recruiting from BAME communities and added that victims of modern slavery should not be forgotten in the work to come.
Cllr Alan Speake said he felt everyone in Carmarthenshire should have a say because council taxpayers had contributed to the upkeep of memorials and monuments for years.
He said he supported the motion and had played rugby and cricket with ethnic minority players, but added: “I think this is a bit rushing through.
“I would rather see all of us consulted – black, white, yellow and brown.”
Cllr Andre McPherson said he thought Cllr Speake’s comments were racist, while Cllr Akhtar said BAME individuals were also taxpayers.
She said Picton – a former governor of Trinidad – owned slaves, who were black, and that Picton was, therefore, a racist.
“We should not be promoting a racist in this day and age,” she said.
“Unless you remove this statue, how are you going to set an example?
“By keeping this statue you are dishonouring everybody in Carmarthenshire.”
Cllr Speake said he was taken aback by Cllr McPherson and Cllr Akhtar’s comments.
“All I mentioned was that everybody should be involved – simple as that,” he said.
“I’m not racist. I take that very seriously and strongly.”
Cllr McPherson then said he hadn’t been calling Cllr Speake racist – rather than the words he had used “unfortunately in this day and age are not appropriate”.
Cllr Bowen said the aim of the motion was not to forget history but to learn about all of it, good and bad.
“Injustice based on racism exists in Wales, and here in Carmarthenshire,” he said.
Cllr Bowen said his own actions in this matter had not always been correct.
“My hope is that we all learn from our mistakes,” he said.
The approved motion, which will also celebrate the contribution of BAME communities during Black History Month in October, will now go before the council’s executive board.
The Carmarthenshire branch of union Unison has called on the Picton memorial in Carmarthen to be removed.
It said: “There should be no delay or prevarication over this by the council – if they are against racism then they should remove what is in effect a commemoration of a racist now.”