Civilian attacks on police herald social breakdown and anarchy

There has been a recent trend where civilians have, for one reason or another, felt justified to attack police officers on duty.

Recently, a video clip emerged of a Tuk Tuk driver attacking two traffic police officers.

The individual who took the viral clip and the Tuk Tuk driver justified the attack and claimed that the man had been angered by the conduct of the two police officers. He accused the two of smashing the side mirror and windscreen of his vehicle during a routine traffic stop.

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Shortly after, another clip emerged of a man trying to wrestle an armed police man.

Kenyans on Twitter reacted to the clips mainly in two ways. There were those who saw it as an empowering moment where a citizen was reacted to an oppressive system. Others saw it as a serious affront to the rule of law.

No matter the justification, there should be other avenues instead of attacking police officers. There should be effective complaints and redress mechanisms that aggrieved civilians can use to channel their grievances and seek justice whenever they feel wronged by the police.

Delivering justice

Are Kenyans aware of the location, work and mandates of the National Police Service's Internal Affairs Unit, Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa), Commission of Administrative Justice (CAJ) and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) If they are, are they confident that these bodies can deliver justice to them when they feel aggrieved by the police?

The police are the most visible manifestation and embodiment of Government authority. To attack them is to invite lawlessness and anarchy. Under anarchy, there is nothing to forestall evil people from committing heinous acts such as murder, theft and rape. Within any state, including Kenya, the police are needed for the prevention and detection of crime, maintenance of public order, traffic control and assisting the public.

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Systemic challenges notwithstanding, it should always be remembered that not all officers are bad. In the fulfillment of their duties, police may sometimes resort to force and firearms, arrest and detention, search and seizure.

Because of their proximity to citizens and their potential to curtail citizen’s rights, police officers as a matter of necessity must be adequately trained and equipped to ensure that they do not abuse these powers. They must have the temperament and good judgment in how they interact with civilians as they do their job.

When exercising these powers, they must comply with the law, including practicing restraint and using legal force only when it is necessary and proportionate. It cannot be that in 2018, an encounter with police can feel like an encounter with colonial oppressors before independence.

The hostility between citizens and police officers that is now becoming palpable should worry all stakeholders in the security sector.

Duty bearers

These duty bearers must urgently do something to ensure that law enforcement operate within laid down procedures including statutory law, the constitution and international and national human rights standards.  Encounters between police and civilians should not necessarily be adversarial.

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It is noteworthy that in the two clips, the police acted with a level of restraint. This is laudable because even when police are attacked by rogue or incensed civilians, they remain bound by the rule of law. As such, their responses must be in line with professionalism and laid down rules and procedures on the use of force.

Pursuant to Article 21 of the Constitution, the State, including the police, have a fundamental duty to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and fundamental freedoms of every Kenyan.

We should therefore transform to a situation where the need for the police to resort to limiting civilians rights is dictated by the law, pursues a legitimate aim of protecting life and maintaining order.

Images of police officers lowering the dignity of Kenyans, who are essentially their clients, bosses or even employers, such as brutal beatings and humiliation should be a thing of the past.

As such, the Government through the relevant agencies must strengthen and promote the respect for human rights in policing at all levels. 

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Demas Kiprono is human rights lawyer [email protected]

Commission of Administrative JusticeKNCHRIpoa