Over the weekend, I took out a poster that lists the rights of any person when confronted by the UKBA (UK Border Agency) on the street. I wanted to take pictures of people I knew holding the sign. For a project trying to encourage people who disagreed with the UKBA’s tactics to take photos of themselves holding the sign. I took these on Saturday…
That night, a friend and I went to the pub. It was crowded in the garden. Shortly after we’d sat down, a guy came over and asked if there was space for him and his friends.
“How many?” I asked.
“There are three of us, but I’m sure we can fit!” he said.
He was pretty buff and when I turned to see his friends that were walking toward the table, I laughed – they were built like tanks.
Everyone shook hands. I started talking to the guy opposite me, let’s call him Tom. Before long we’d found out they’d all been in the Royal Marines.
I told Tom what I had been doing with the poster. He smiled enigmatically then put his head in his hands.
“If you’d seen the things I’ve seen and knew the things I knew,” he said.
“Then I’d be more comfortable with the UKBA intimidating people on the street?” I said.
“They’re just doing their job.”
“Are they? Can’t they do that in their offices and at the borders?”
“I trust that whatever they are doing they are doing it because it needs to be done,” he replied.
“Do you? How would you feel if you were stopped and searched?”
“I’d assume they had reason to search me and let them.”
“Really? I’d feel threatened…” I say, “How do you feel when you see police walking around airports with guns? It makes me far more nervous than if they weren’t there… Making communities of people feel intimidated because of their race is just not on at all.”
He shrugs, “look, I don’t have a racist bone in my body, but there have to be ways of dealing with people who are here illegally.”
“Like regulating immigration properly in the first place?” I ask.
“It isn’t that simple. How would you feel if a member of your family was shot with a gun that had been brought in as a result of unregulated trafficking? You’d want to stop the guns being brought in right?”
His question surprises me, “It really wouldn’t be the first thing that came to mind. I wouldn’t question where the gun had come from, I’d be grieving over the death of my family member. I wouldn’t have even thought about the gun.”
“My point is that we ultimately need regulation to prevent violent crimes and trafficking, for the security of everyone. And if they feel it’s necessary to do this, then I trust that.”
“I think there are other ways of doing it, and I don’t feel secure,” I say. “When I protest, I do it not because I expect it to solve all of the problems we have, but in the hope we can maintain a collective feeling of peace here. Everyone feeling good about where they live is important.”
We ask what they do. Two of them are no longer Marines. They run a successful business that puts security aboard ships to prevent them being attacked by Somali pirates.
“Do they shoot the pirates?” I ask.
“No, they use a scale of escalation – there are levels of action taken to deter them,” Tom says.
“So how does it work, the Marines? Do you have to sign away your life or what?” I ask.
“We have an initial period of about six months intensive training. Then a minimum of three years service.”
“So how come you’re running this business now instead of still in the Marines?” I ask.
Tom rolls up his jeans and pulls off a leg in one swift motion.
“Woah!” I say, feeling surprisingly un-phased considering, “what happened?”
“You didn’t notice me limping tonight?” Tom asks.
“Not at all.”
“We were on a roof in Afghan,” he says. “We got shot at. A bullet went in to my ankle, shattered the bone, ripped through all the tendons and ligaments.”
We agreed to disagree about the UKBA’s tactics. They invited us back to theirs for a drink and it was a good night.