'They are minnows, in terms of trying to abuse me' - human rights campaigner Sir Geoff Palmer defies racists
Council chiefs have refused to reveal the names of officials sitting on a panel reviewing Edinburgh’s historic links to slavery – fearing they will become targets for abuse
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But the man heading up the probe – human rights campaigner Sir Geoff Palmer – has defiantly labelled his abusers 'minnows’ and warned that his tough upbringing in Jamaica means they do not scare him.
Edinburgh City Council launched the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, and subsequent debate around colonial and racist figures being immortalised in public spaces.
The group, chaired by Sir Geoff, Scotland’s first black professor and the new Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, is examining the street names, monuments and buildings of the capital.
He believes the review will produce educational resources to ‘provide people with information about their city’, rather than removing statues and changing place names.
However, the council has refused to reveal the names of the officials closely involved amid fears they would be subject to abuse by both 'online and offline'.
In response to the abuse he has received, Sir Geoff said: “I’m from Jamaica, I’m from a very tough part of Jamaica, in Kingston, and I have put up with worse than them. They are minnows, in terms of trying to abuse me.
“I’m doing a job, for the city, for the people of Edinburgh, and abuse will not stop me.”
He added: “I respond to those people, and others say I shouldn’t, but I have learned so much about racism from them.
“I don’t think they should be stopped. The fact is I have learned a lot from them, and now they have gone.
“I can’t say if the council is responsible, and the fact is, everybody knows I am on that committee, and I will take the abuse, I don’t care.
“They are picking on the wrong person, because I’ve been given a job by the council and the government, and with Edinburgh University, and loads of others.
“I’m not going to stop that because of people, either historians who think they are trained, or people who want to abuse me, that won’t stop me.”
The council’s committee includes council members, who are financed by the taxpayer, but in response to a freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council refused to name the committee members for fear of ‘both online and offline abuse’.
It was set up after growing unease over the Melville monument in St Andrew Square, which commemorates 18th century Home Secretary Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, who is seen as responsible for delaying the abolition of slavery in Britain by 15 years from 1772 to 1807, and other city landmarks with links to the trade in human flesh.
The response to the freedom of information request reads: “Under the terms of the legislation, a request for information can be refused where one or more exemptions listed in the legislation apply.
“In this instance, the council is claiming exemptions under sections 38 (Personal Data) and 39 (Health, Safety and the Environment).
“Due to concerns about both online and offline abuse raised by the Review Group, the chair has agreed not to release the names or biographical details of any members until appropriate safeguarding supports are approved and operational, and the Review Group consents to their details being publicised.”