Kenyans’ lives matter; bosses must account for police brutality

Residents of Mathare, in Nairobi County, on May 4, 2020, protest the alleged killing of a local by police officers during curfew enforcement. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • There is no provision in the Constitution for the police to take away innocent life, beat or illegally evict anyone.
  • Let us professionalise the police service so that they can be taught to be firm but also courteous and conciliatory.

Looking at the police-sanctioned demolition of homes at Sewerage slum in Kariobangi last week in violation of a court order and the protest of Mathare residents following the beating to death of their neighbour, allegedly by the police, it won’t be far-fetched to imagine that Kenyans do not belong to this country but are just guests at the mercy of the State, which pulls the rug under their feet or kills them at will.

Cases of police brutality have been normalised, which they shouldn’t be. Not a day goes by without a case involving police officers being recorded in various forums as they kick, punch, whip, bludgeon or even shoot innocent and unarmed civilians to death.

They have taken being rogue to a disturbingly high level. Why is the government silent when torture by the police is going on?

The only time I remember (and I stand corrected) a president in Kenya addressing a complaint against the police was when they whipped innocent citizens in Likoni at the start of Covid-19 dusk-to-dawn curfew, never mind that it was a half-hearted apology.

President Uhuru Kenyatta now needs to strongly condemn the impunity within the police service and be more involved in stopping their overzealous policing strategies lest they kill us all.

Command responsibility cuts both ways. Let police officers carry out orders and senior officials be accountable should things go wrong.

RESPONSIBLE POLICING

A contingent of officers does not leave their station to evict civilians or shoot demonstrators without the knowledge and consent of the person in charge.

Kenyans’ lives — including those of poor residents of the slums, who seem to bear the brunt of police brutality — are sacred. Being poor is not a crime.

They do not have to be a soft target for corrupt and brutal police by virtue of presumptuous criminality associated with slum dwellers.

The youth in our slums are still the largest demography that is being wrongfully and disproportionally targeted by the police.

Yet they can’t all be bad, as exemplified by Carlton Maina — the University of Leeds student fatally shot by a policeman as he walked home in Kibra during his holidays from the UK in 2018.

We get horrified by the scenes of white police brutality on the black population in the US, but our government does not bat an eye when it comes to violence meted out on the black population in our country by our police.

How any regime could stand by and watch as its citizens are tortured, killed and evicted by the very officers who are meant to keep them safe is mind-boggling!

The harm being done by police brutality to the psyche of Kenyans will take a long time to heal. We should not have to be damaged and abused by our kith and kin.

RULE OF LAW

We are not their enemies. But to the police, every Kenyan is a crime suspect — and there is nothing more misleading.

But even the so-called ‘most wanted suspects’ whom they gun down unlawfully have rights that need to be preserved.

Police have never had, do not have and will never have the right to take away a life unless they do so under impunity drawn from phantom powers.

To slap, let alone kill, a person is a crime that neither civilians nor the police should get away with. There is no provision in the Constitution for the police to take away innocent life, beat or illegally evict anyone.

Articles 26 on the right to life and 28 on human dignity should be guiding factors for the police at any time. The officers cannot be police, prosecutor and judge. They are overstepping their powers and will continue to do so if the authority remains silent.

Perhaps, we should consider having police officers serve within their native towns. The current model of recruiting officers and then deploying them anywhere all over the country is causing tension between communities.

Non-native police seem to be taken as strangers while the officers consider citizens as enemies instead of neighbours and friends worthy of protection.

UNLAWFUL DEATHS

The old colonial-style police officer has had their day and police hostility towards the public should end. Let us professionalise the police service so that they can be taught to be firm but also courteous and conciliatory.

We must consider instituting command responsibility where we hold senior officials, rather than their juniors, accountable on the ground; the buck stops with the seniors, who give the orders for laws to be breached rather than respected.

As I had suggested in previous articles, we need to take guns away from the hands of the police. It makes no sense crying over their murderous nature and still allow them all to carry guns.

Most misuse firearms, leading to unlawful deaths, and that has irreparably damaged communal relations.

The authorities have a responsibility to guide the police to protect, rather than destroy, lives.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo

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