Myrna Simpson, mother of Joy Gardner, at a protest in 1995. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Jimmy Mubenga: What kind of society can treat the death of an immigrant so casually?

Disrespected by the state, and demonised by the press - the most pressing "fears about migration" are those that belong to migrants.

Last month, an inquest jury of seven men and three women returned a majority verdict that Jimmy Mubenga was unlawfully killed during a deportation. Yesterday the coroner published a report into the ease with which Mubenga’s life was taken by the state and its contractors.

What kind of society can treat the death of an immigrant so casually? The same one that produced the van driven through London's black and minority ethnic communities last week, inscribed with the slogan "go home".

The van was not the latest project of the English Defence League, or a far right splinter group, but a pilot campaign by the Home Office operating under the mandate of Parliament. The government had chosen to restore a chant made infamous by the National Front. A chant that greeted my grandparents and a generation of post-war British migrants from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. A chant that was often accompanied by violence. The Home Office put that chant at the heart of a flagship campaign.

The timing was particularly insensitive: it was near the 20th anniversary of the death of Joy Gardner, a 40 year-old Caribbean mother killed in front of her five year-old son while the police attempted to deport her. It added to the feeling that Mubenga and Gardner’s deaths were not individual accidents, but the inevitable result of attitudes towards migrant citizenship in "modern" Britain. The coroner looking into the Mubenga case found "pervasive" racist attitudes among deportation guards in the same way that the Macpherson report found "institutional racism" in the police. 

The next question is this: why would G4S guards respect a migrant's life, when the message our political class has sent out is that migrant lives have no value in Britain - unless they are generating revenue for the Treasury?

The story of how Mubenga's wife became a widow, and his five children, all British born citizens - the youngest just three years old - lost their dad should make us ask why the state was forcibly removing a father from his family.

Commentators routinely complain about the absence of black fathers - most recently Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s disastrous piece of urban tourism in the Mail - but are silent on how the right to family life of black and minority ethnic Britons is restricted.

The Conservatives present immigration only as a problem and have pledged to cut net migration by more than 50 per cent in five years. Labour, meanwhile, cannot stop apologising for "getting it wrong on immigration". But neither party appears to be talking about American financiers, western Europeans or Britain’s Australian and Canadian cousins when they talk about problem migrants.

Some tabloids, meanwhile, routinely run headlines scapegoating migration as an existential threat to core parts of our welfare state - the NHS and our housing stock. Yet the papers rarely cover the frequency of violence against migrants when restrained and detained, or the trauma to their (often British-born) children. Migrants' own humanity is systematically obscured. 

A study by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD) published in April 2013 found that children who had been split from their parents who were in detention experienced weight loss, nightmares, insomnia, frequent crying and isolation. Each of these symptoms indicate a crisis of mental health. Over the past months a growing number of detained asylum seekers have starved themselves.

And for black and minority ethnic Britons, the suspicion does not end with a passport and a stamp of Britishness. Suggestions that the border police were targeting non-white people at Kensal Green station have alarmed many. Concerns over stop and search are already well known. The result is that BME Britons can feel like they only have the status of "visitors", not citizens.

Anti-racism has become a dead dogma. The average Briton knows racism is wrong but cannot recognise it in practice, even when the government borrows a slogan that was once enforced on signs with "no dogs, no blacks, no Irish". A recent poll by YouGov found that 61 per cent of people did not find the "Go Home" van to be racist.

That poll result shows that, although Doreen Lawrence has been made a baroness for fighting racism, Britain understands the subject less and less. It is not that the majority of the public want to be racist - they don't - they simply just do not get it.

After the death of Jimmy Mubenga, the head of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, David Wood, "apologised" in these words: "I am willing to apologise to the extent that it was our responsibility." More absurd than the shallowness of his apology was that Wood was apologising for doing his job. Crudely speaking, the drive to create a "hostile environment for migrants" is masterminded by our government. Sections of the press have played their part too. 

For Jimmy Mubenga, Joy Gardner and the many others treated violently by the state, justice will only be served by reform. That starts with the recognition that the "fears about migration" which may be most pressing are those that belong to the migrant.

John Moore
Show Hide image

The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.