Skip to main content
December 14, 2018

Routine Cop Cruelty Is Making Us Numb

Human rights are all well and good, but our country is in a situation where we cannot afford this right now, when we are further, maybe, in the future, but not now.’
Human rights are all well and good, but our country is in a situation where we cannot afford this right now, when we are further, maybe, in the future, but not now.’

Today we bury one of our sons.

On Monday last week, protests erupted in Mathare slum. The police responded with an amount of force that everyone seems to have grown accustomed, but that is unlawful nonetheless.

Witnesses have reported how police shot indiscriminately into the crowds. Early the next day, apparently in retribution for the protests, police killed one person, and seriously injured four others, one of whom is still in critical condition. The people who were shot all took part in the protests the day before.

Our focus in this piece is not to analyse the reasons why the protests occurred (bear in mind that the rights to assemble and express one’s opinions are guaranteed under our constitution. Our concern is the sheer and unlawful force with which police responded.

This despite clear provisions in the National Police Service Act that “firearms may only be used when less extreme means are inadequate (...)”.

As the Sixth Schedule to the Act further provides, whenever firearms are used a clear warning should be given beforehand, any use should be reported to the officers’ superiors and “any use of firearms that leads to death, serious injury and other grave consequences shall be reported by the officer in charge, or another direct superior of the person who caused the death or injury, to the Independent Police Oversight Authority, who shall investigate the case.”

Failure to report to IPOA is a disciplinary offence. In order to allow for proper investigations into the use of firearms, the scene of the act must be secured. Moreover, the next of kin, relative or friend must be notified of the death or injury as soon as is reasonably practical.

None of this has happened. Nobody has even raised an eyebrow about the violence used by the police in Mathare – or indeed elsewhere – nor about the lack of compliance with the law, such as the failure of police to report incidents where they used force or firearms and where this has resulted in death or injury.

Also, IPOA’s failure to investigate such cases, or even keep reliable statistics, let alone follow up on cases where police failed to report is disheartening.

Is the law just a piece of paper to please donors and others but of which we all know there is no need to actually comply with it? Have we all grown so numb? Ask yourself: is this the police you want for Kenya? Is this the Kenya we want?

Yes, we know the response: ‘these people are ‘thugs’, they are out to steal and cause havoc, and yes, okay, maybe the police are violent, but that is the only way to keep these particular youngsters under control. They are really doing it to themselves. And by the way, it is impossible to always abide by the law, police work requires some bending of the rules now and then, that is the only way to restore order.

Human rights are all well and good, but our country is in a situation where we cannot afford this right now, when we are further, maybe, in the future, but not now.’

Recognise any of this?

Ask yourself, do you really believe this? Are the Mathare residents really different from you? Are you worth more than them? The protests in Mathare were reported in the media, yet with limited reference to the violence used by police during and after the protests.

The Nation reported that: “The officers were forced to shoot in the air and lob teargas canisters to disperse the rowdy youth”.

Yet, they shot bullets through mabati houses where women were cooking, and police bullets lodged into walls where children had been playing only minutes before.

This makes one wonder whether the journalist just copied and pasted what the police told him or whether he actually made an effort to check the scene of the incident.

We can tell you: we are sure that he did not. He has just been playing into the narrative that allows you, the reader, to conveniently continue to sedate yourself with what you want to be true, even when you know it is not and also that it is not right.

Then ask yourself: how can police restore order when they do not follow the law themselves? How can they ask others to play by the rules when they fail to do so themselves?

Police all over the world know that the only way to conduct effective policing is in cooperation with the public. This requires the public to have confidence, and trust in their police.

How is this ever going to be achieved in situations where people fear, or loathe police for their lack of professionalism and sheer impunity? We are tired of losing generations.

Mathare Social Justice Centre.

Poll of the day