Police brutality is back, and we should all be afraid

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai
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In yet another blast from the past, two journalists were recently arrested by the policefor interviewing a relative of a man who had been arrested while peacefully protesting the visit of Deputy President William Ruto to Nyeri.

These sorts of actions were common in the dark days of Kanu, where efforts were deliberately made to inculcate silence and fear. Journalists walked a fine line lest they fell afoul of the powerful who did not tolerate dissent or disagreement.

How can wearing a T-shirt with writing expressing disapproval of Mr Ruto be something that leads to arrest unless it is to sow fear? It is not a crime to protest against Ruto or anyone else for that matter. That is patently illegal and barbaric, only made worse by targeting journalists simply doing their job.  

I would be surprised if the police in Mukurweini received direct “orders from above” to make the arrests. But the arrests depict the recurrence of a certain — and perhaps official — mentality in the police that is about instilling fear in society.

This is one of the building blocks of a dictatorship that some with proximity to power aspire towards; believing they can carry out corruption and theft with less consequences.  

They better be careful what they wish for, as fate could boomerang on their wishes and put the person they fear or hate the most at the helm. The police impunity in making illegal arrests should not surprise us. For recently we have seen an upsurge in extra-judicial killings in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Muhuri, the pre-eminent human rights organisation at the Coast, has for decades challenged the police for acting as judge, jury and executioner. Recently, Muhuri raised the matter of the policeshooting, at close range, Maitha Omar, who the security officers alleged had tried to steal a goat. That is the standard police explanation when they are caught breaking the law: that those who are eliminated are criminals. They imply that society is better off without these “thugs” and our lives are better off.

Yet, police have killed “criminals” since the 1970s — from the time of the infamous Patrick Shaw — yet crime has not reduced. Extrajudicial killings cannot solve our crime and insecurity problem; especially when most notorious criminals are in cahoots with the police in a culture of corruption and impunity.  

It is so brazen that Corporal Ahmed Rashid, the leader of a police unit named “Pangani 6”, easily admitted to the BBC in a documentary titled “Inside the world of Kenya’s “killer cop” that he is law unto himself and that he kills as he wishes.

Corporal Rashid rose to prominence as the shooter of a subdued suspect in a widely circulated video of shootings in Eastleigh in 2017. He was shown hurtling the teenage suspect to the ground and pumping about 15 bullets into him. Corporal Rashid says in the documentary that he did so because he assumed the suspect had killed his cop friend.

For many people brutalised by criminals, anything done — whether temporary, ineffective, or illegal — to reduce crime is welcome and they see Corporal Rashid and his ilk as heroes.

The documentary highlights the support that Corporal Rashid receives in Eastleigh, especially from the business community, but also the fear he transmits across Eastleigh and Mathare. The problem with this approach to security is that it encourages lawlessness and brutality all around.

When the authorities break the law willy-nilly and violently, this sense of impunity and ruthlessness is transferred to citizens and violence in society is inevitable. In fact, no country has ever reduced crime when policing is primarily done through extra-judicial killings. Brazil, Nigeria, US, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador have tried extrajudicial killings as a way to reduce crime, but it just does not work. Just as innocent people are sometimes arrested, more are killed in extrajudicial killings.

But unlike processes in the courts that provide a chance to rectify mistakes, those shot by policeare silenced forever. They are taken as “collateral damage” but try explaining that to someone’s parent, child or loved one. If stealing a goat is worth a life, why is it that those who have stolen our money and resources in Eurobond, SGR, NYS I and II, Mafia House, Kenya Power, KenGen, land grabbing, Kenya Pipeline, sugar, maize, Kenha and other scandals are still free and alive? How come the suspects of these scandals have not been targeted by Corporal Rashid or other “crime busters?”

The damage and brutalisation on society from these mega looting scandals far outweigh any goats a mentally challenged young man could ever steal, or whatever carnage a gang like “Super Power” could do. Yet Maitha Omar is dead, while the suspects of looting who are making us poorer sneer at us from their SUVs and choppers. And we say there is justice in Kenya?
 

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