Slum dwellers lament police brutality at Saba Saba rally

Activists claim police harass and gun down youths in the slums for fun.

In Summary

• Victims of police harassment claim dreadlocks, dark sun glasses, chain necklaces attract police suspicion and harassment.

Rowdy Mathare youth chase away fire fighters as fire raze down a section of the slum
Rowdy Mathare youth chase away fire fighters as fire raze down a section of the slum
Image: FILE

Victor Githinji decided to shave his dreadlocks in January to spare him the frequent police suspicion in his Mathare neighbourhood.

His hairstyle made him catch the attention of police officers in the low-income estate for much of last year.

The officers would frequently stop him on the road on suspicion of being a criminal.


Kevin Mutahi who lives in Shauri Moyo area, says a police officer in the informal settlement often violently disrupted a gathering of youths in the area.

"A group of four or five youths draws the attention of the officers, mostly in plain cloths. They chase the youths with a whip and other crude weapons," Mutahi said.

He said young people wearing jewellery and dark sunglasses are dealt with harshly by the cops. "The police claim they are criminals," he told the Star yesterday.

"Instead of chasing and brutalising women and young men in slums, why don't you arrest them and put them in jail if they are wrong?" a resident, only identified as Mama Victor asked.

She said she had also lost a son to police bullet at Mlango Kubwa last year.

They spoke at a Saba Saba rally against police brutality and unlawful killings at Kamukunji grounds.

Amnesty International boss Houghton Irungu called on the state to reign in rogue officers who misuse their weapons and authority to harass unarmed civilians.


"To the Ministry of Interior, we hear you when you say extrajudicial killings is not a government policy, but where is the decisive action against rogue officers?" he asked.

Irungu wondered what the Inspector General of Police would tell the tens of families whose loved ones have been gunned down when they have already surrendered and are unarmed.

A Human Rights Watch report last week showed that over 21 young men had been gunned down by the police in Dandora and other slum areas in the city.

The report of the survey done in April and May 2019, claimed that the police harassed and killed people, particularly men apparently for sport and sometimes to settle personal scores.

Irungu said there is a need for a more direct intervention to rid the police service of rogue elements.

"We are tired of statistics, stories and burial of those killed extra-judicially in the country. It's far too much," Irungu said.

Social Justice Centres Working Group chairman Wilfred Olal said harassment of the young and unleashing of brute force on them by the police in the informal settlement is akin to criminalising slum living.

"Why do the police and the state, in general, criminalise poverty? These harassments are the reasons young people easily slide into crime," he said. 

Living in slums and being poor should be included in the ten ways to go to jail or even die in this country, Olal said. 

(edited by O. Owino)