Māori dad wrongfully accused of being a gang member due to his tā moko in hateful tweet

Headlines 04/06/2020

A hardworking father has expressed his outrage after a stranger linked him to the Mongrel Mob in a hateful Twitter rant - an accusation he says isn't "foreign" to him due to his tā moko.

Kia Kanuta was photographed participating in Auckland's Black Lives Matter protest on Monday, a demonstration that echoed the calls for change in the United States following the murder of African American man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer.

The picture, which captured Kanuta marching on an Auckland street with his fist raised, was subsequently shared by Twitter user Geoff Booth, who indirectly accused Kanuta of being affiliated with the Mongrel Mob gang. 

Alongside the photo of Kanuta, Booth, who says he is from the Waitaki District, ranted: "Look what was really in the crowd yesterday screaming for violence against the police. The bugs of our society... Mongrel Mob criminals shoulder to shoulder with the ANTIFA babies. These diseased bugs have no status in our society and never will. They're just bugs."

Speaking to Newshub on Wednesday, Kanuta and his partner, Kataraina Fong - parents to two-year-old Lana - said they became aware of the post when a family member shared a screenshot to their group chat. After responding to the tweet, Fong was quickly blocked by Booth.

"I couldn't believe it. It blew my mind. He doesn't deserve this treatment," Fong told Newshub. "Kia is kind, caring - it couldn't be further from the truth."

Kanuta, a chef of 12 years, admitted the accusation was hurtful - but not unusual. Due to his tā moko, a face tattoo representative of Māori culture, he says he is often subjected to adversity.

"I was a bit hurt initially to see how I was being profiled and perceived based on my appearance. It hurt to see my image was used [in that context] when I was just standing in solidarity [with the Black Lives Matter movement]. This man has no understanding of Māori culture or what it means to be Māori," Kanuta said.

"This adversity isn't foreign to me. I experience it regularly - but it was the fact he posted this online, for everyone to see, that was shocking to me. It's usually subtle."

Fong said the family often receive "dirty looks" when in public. She said Kanuta is frequently subjected to adversity and racial profiling based on his Māori heritage and distinctive tā moko tattoo.

"He experiences adversity based on his appearance regularly. He only got the tattoo a few months ago. We'll often face discrimination when we're out walking - we'll get stared at, people's eyes follow us. We feel we have to smile and openly acknowledge the dirty looks. Sometimes if we're out for a drink someone will shout out a racial slur," she explained.

Kanuta is now trying to focus on the positive outcomes of the online attack, including the outpouring of support and the undeniable proof that racial profiling very much exists in New Zealand.

He says the outraged response to Booth's tweet - which has been condemned as "racist" by other social media users - has been empowering. 

"The response to the accusation has been very mana uplifting," he told Newshub. "It makes me proud to see people stand up against him."

He expressed his gratitude and appreciation for the support from friends, whānau and strangers alike, who have rallied behind him in the aftermath of the defamatory tweet.

"There needs to be a change," Fong pitched in. "If anything, we hope this post will act as proof to open people's eyes and show them that racism is very much still around."

Kanuta agreed, saying he hopes the tweet will "lift a hood" on discrimination in New Zealand.

"I usually don't respond to these kinds of incidents. Instead I choose to share it with my friends and whānau to expose discrimination. These kind of people that formulate opinions with no understanding of the culture [they are criticising] - they will not listen. 

"I could tell them to read a book, to watch a documentary - even ask them to get a coffee with me and meet me in person. Who knows, if they had taken the time to get to know me for who I am, maybe they'd have more empathy and wouldn't be so quick to pass judgement."

Newshub attempted to contact Booth for his side of the story. He did not respond to the request for comment and instead shared a screenshot of the reporter's message and labelled her "a parasitic media bastard".

"I never singled out any individual but was talking about the crowd in general of which there is criminals among the good folk & is why [the Government Communciations Security Bureau] were there [sic]," Booth captioned the post.

Credit to Newshub and Lana Andelane for the story.