Mob justice, the act where members of the public take matters into their own hands to punish suspects, is unacceptable and it should never be.
In many cases, mob justice has led to brutal death of suspects whose crimes could just be stealing food for sustenance.
A suspect beaten to death for stealing food from a shop or home has died due to miscarriage of justice. No suspect should face punishment without due process and fair trial.
Even career burglars don’t deserve summary dismissal at the hands of the public—despite the argument many Kenyans make that it is a punishment befitting such criminals.
Mob justice signals failure in policing. It shows that members of the public have no confidence in the police and prefer to deal with issues on their own.
Although death of a suspect who is caught stealing may give the mob some gratification, it does not ultimately auger well for the society.
What the mob is doing is committing crimes in the name of fighting crime. Assaulting or killing suspects are criminal acts and should attract severe punishment.
Mob justice is also likely to lead to miscarriage of justice, whereby an innocent passer-by mistakenly identified as a thief could be beaten to death. In some cases, even police officers in civilian clothes have been beaten to death after being mistaken for thieves.
Most of the suspects who have been so lynched by the public are accused of burglary in the communities. Although the public’s anger is understandable, it is, however, being directed to the wrong people. They should, instead, be angry with the government and demand improved policing rather than take the law into their own hands.
Killing a suspect whose only crime is stealing a replaceable tangible object is not only a crime but unjust too.
Punishment must fit the crime. However, in many criminal matters handled by the mob, this is never the case. Suspects have lost their lives after stealing something so mundane that their death become disproportionate to what they have been accused of stealing in the first place—whether that is a lady’s handbag or an item from a warehouse.
Despite the anger and frustration exhibited by the public on the level of insecurity in the communities, mob justice should not be encouraged. If anything, those who take matters into their own hands and punish or even kill suspects must face the full force of the law. Just like a shoot-to-kill policy by the police, mob justice only makes violence in the communities worse.
There is no proof that such acts help to reduce crime. What is required is dealing with the causes of crime and one of the ways of doing that is creating an equal society. Kenya has a huge disparity in wealth and Nairobi exemplifies that better. Those with low income inhabit the slums around the city, from where police focus their wrath and guns on the poor.
Kenyan politicians have used politics to milk taxes for their sole benefit through huge salaries and perks and left their voters behind. The poverty created is now contributing to social and insecurity problems being experienced in the country.
An equitable society means a society with minimal gap between the haves and have-nots. Ours is anything but! If Kenya is serious about fighting insecurity, it must start by tackling social injustice. Increase in employment opportunities goes hand in hand with stability that comes from a secure country that attracts investors.
Tackling insecurity is the responsibility of the police and not members of the public. They can only help by complimenting the work of the police by reporting crime and engaging with the police on how to tackle crime in their neighbourhoods.
But police in Kenya are still under-funded and under-staffed and that needs to change. A lot of money has been spent on military projects and, although this is crucial, I believe police need more funding too in fighting crime like never before as the level rises. We can’t keep complaining of the bribery culture within the police but keep their salaries constantly low.
From experience, I find most of our politicians tend to be condescending towards the police, thinking they are just ‘askaris’ with rungus or only there to chase after cattle rustlers. That is in the old days. Modern policing is much more complicated and requires complex strategies to fight crimes.
Technology must now be at the centre of policing in Kenya and should be used as the link between the police and communities to restore trust and help in fighting crime. Street lighting and cameras are essential. Nyumba Kumi is a great initiative but is not applicable in all types of neighbourhoods or demography in the country, hence the need for technology.
Mob justice and shooting criminals is an outdated model of policing and is a breach of the right to life. Eradicating mob justice is long overdue. A fully supported criminal justice system is what we need, not a barbaric mob baying for suspects’ blood.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo