The statue honors Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a 17th century royal minister who wrote rules governing slaves in France’s overseas colonies. It stands in front of the National Assembly, a prominent landmark overlooking the Seine River in Paris.
Paris police said one person was detained after “state negrophobia” was scrawled in red paint on the statue’s pedestal and pink paint splattered on Colbert’s likeness. A group called the Anti-Negrophobia Brigade posted photos online of the graffiti and one of its activists in a police van at the site. The group has called for a national debate about such monuments and what it calls institutionalized anti-Black racism in France.
It is the most prominent monument in France targeted since George Floyd’s death in the U.S. galvanized action in many countries against racial injustice and police violence. The statue was put under police protection earlier this month amid growing calls to rethink such historical figures.
Colbert, a prominent minister under King Louis XVI in the 1600s, is celebrated in France for an economic doctrine known as “colbertism,” which relies on the idea that state intervention is needed to serve the country’s economy and wealth.
Colbert also drafted the Code Noir (“Black Code”), promulgated two years after his death, which regulated the life, death, purchase, religion and treatment of slaves by their masters. No statues in France have been taken down as they have in the U.S. or other countries, but several have been vandalized in recent weeks.