“All you people are watching them kill me”

Widow Adrienne Makenda Kambana on a United Families and Friends Campaign demonstration in 2011. Photo: Ken Fero (cc).
Widow Adrienne Makenda Kambana on a United Families and Friends Campaign demonstration in 2011. Photo: Ken Fero (cc).

Jimmy Mubenga was killed as he was forcibly deported from the UK in 2010. The guards who were found guilty of unlawful killing at the inquest have now been cleared of manslaughter at the Old Bailey.

Black lives don’t matter. This is what we’ve learned – or been reminded of – in the last month. Grand juries in the USA chose not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and yesterday the three men who killed Jimmy Mubenga walked free.

Jimmy Mubenga was 46 years old and a father of five, and had lived in the UK since 1994, having fled Angola to escape persecution for his political activism. As a migrant, and black, his life was worth nothing to the state. On 12 October 2010 he was forcibly deported by the Home Office, escorted by three guards working for G4S: Terrence Hughes, Colin Kaler and Stuart Tribelnig. Before the aircraft left the ground, they handcuffed him, forced him into a position that prevented him from breathing, and killed him, in full view of other passengers, who heard him cry, “All you people are watching them kill me.”

At first, the three killers were arrested and bailed, and G4S lost their contract to deport people on behalf of the Home Office, although they continue to run detention centres. In 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service declined to charge the guards, but in 2013 an inquest jury found that they had used “unreasonable force”, and that Jimmy Mubenga had been unlawfully killed. Finally, early in 2014, they were charged with manslaughter.

It took four years from Jimmy Mubenga’s killing to put his killers on trial, and only six weeks to clear them. Their lawyer said they were “delighted to have been found not guilty so quickly”. Delighted, but probably not surprised. Not only will the killers be celebrating their escape from justice, tonight they join a long list of agents of the state who have gotten away with murder.

This is not the first time the British state has borne responsibility for the death of migrants, and then denied them justice. In 1993, officers from the Metropolitan Police’s “Alien Deportation Group” invaded Joy Gardner’s home, restrained her with several metres of tape, and killed her. Three officers were tried for manslaughter, acquitted, and reinstated, despite a damning post mortem report and a long history of racist violence by police.

Since 1989, there have been twenty-two deaths at immigration removal centres, almost all of them shrugged off by the Home Office and by the private companies that run them – Serco, Tascor and G4S. Use of force against deportees, including pregnant women and children, is common, and complaints are rife. Given that police officers have acted openly racist and killed with impunity for a long time, it’s unsurprising that these companies feel no need to hold themselves to standards that are any higher. In fact, the very technique used to kill Jimmy Mubenga was not only approved by the National Offender Management Service and the UK Border Agency, it was actually recommended.

The crimes of G4S go far beyond these borders. It provides security systems for Israeli prisons, which carry out horrendous abuses against Palestinians, including children. In South Africa, G4S was accused of such shocking violence against prisoners in Mangaung that the government had to step in and take over the administration of the prison. In addition to beatings and electric shocks, prisoners were illegally placed in solitary confinement for weeks at a time, in some cases years.

It is striking that two juries examined the killing of Jimmy Mubenga, but reached different verdicts. The first, the inquest jury, considered the medical evidence and heard from medical professionals who were unanimous in their assessment of the cause of death. It took eight weeks to return verdict of unlawful killing. The second jury was prevented from hearing of the inquest jury’s verdict, the coroner’s report, and key evidence that demonstrated that at least two of the guards were racist. Terrence Hughes had dozens of racist “jokes” and text messages on his phone, targeting Muslims, Asians and black people, as did Stuart Tribelnig. G4S guards have been known to use racist language while carrying out deportations, a factor cited by the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee in its recommendations against the company. It is almost entirely unbelievable that the judge agreed that these facts should be inadmissible, unless we realise that, as with cases against the police, it is simply against the interests of the state to actually punish those who do violence on its behalf. And with this verdict, immigrants like Jimmy Mubenga are further dehumanised, their lives shown to have little value.

Borders don’t need guard towers, searchlights, machine guns and razor wire to be lethal. In addition to deaths and abuse in detention centres or during deportations, boats full of migrants are sunk with little response from the authorities, asylum seekers are treated like criminals, and imperialist wars create the conditions that force people to flee their homes in the first place.

The real problem is not the way deportees are treated, but that they are deported at all. To fight for justice for Jimmy Mubenga, we must fight against borders themselves, and assert that no one is illegal. We must support campaigns against deportation and demand an end to the detention of migrants. And beyond this, we have to engage in the international battle against racist violence, whether perpetrated by security contractors, police officers, or armed forces.

Across the United States, people have taken to the streets to demand justice for Eric Garner, following earlier protests for Michael Brown. From Ferguson to Staten Island, Staten Island to Heathrow, Heathrow to the world, the struggle is one. Jimmy Mubenga and Eric Garner were both black, both targeted and killed by agents of the state. Both were asphyxiated in public. Both received no justice, their killers allowed to walk free. And their last words were the same: “I can’t breathe.”

There will be a protest outside the Home Office on Thursday 18 December at 6:30pm. This has been organised by the NUS International Students Campaign, NUS Black Students Campaign, London Black Revolutionaries, National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and DocsNotCops.

Further reading

Institute of Race Relations report on death of Jimmy Mubenga
IRR report on deaths in immigration detention 1989-2014
Inquest briefing on the death of Jimmy Mubenga




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