Police behaviour a true reflection of what our leadership holds dear

Carlton Maina, who was a student at Leeds University. [Photo, File]

Chapter 6 of the Constitution has been reduced to an unnecessary addendum by the political class, so has the right to life. Police officers have carte blanche to declare one a suspected criminal and proceed to casually kill them.

How else can the killing of Carlton Maina, a student at Leeds University, be explained? Or the indiscriminate harassment of civilians by police officers in Kawangware last week that resulted in a few individuals getting shot?  At about the same time, police officers killed two young men in Mombasa.

This week, the Police Service proudly announced its officers had killed four suspects in Parklands after trailing them for days. The deceased were suspected to have participated in the unfortunate murder of a Catholic priest in Kinoo, Kiambu County.

Dead men tell no tales. How do we prove that the slain were criminals, not innocent people deliberately set up to cover a murderer who could be well connected? If the police had trailed the suspects for days after establishing beyond doubt that the four were criminals, what stopped the superior, well trained police officers from arresting and charging them? The number of extrajudicial killings, for which Kenya is gaining notoriety, increases every passing week.

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Questions must be asked. Is Kenya a police state? Do constitutional rights and freedoms count for anything? Are ordinary citizens mere statistics to a leadership that sees value in them only when elections are due? What drives police officers to such levels of bestiality? Is the mantra ‘one is innocent until proven guilty’ applicable only to the well to do in society?

Inner sanctum

Police conduct is an accurate measure of a country’s level of political maturity and tolerance. It is a reflection of what a country’s leadership holds dear, which, in our case, is the subjugation of the citizenry.

Not only do Kenyans have to contend with erratic service delivery, over taxation, a spiraling cost of living, rampant corruption within the inner sanctum of government; they must live in fear of a rogue police service.

I salute the few police officers who have demonstrated fidelity to duty; those to whom policing is a calling, not a means to an end. The deportment of our police officers is fanning embers of an uprising. Recent cases of brazen attacks on police officers attest to this, and while we have incidents like the 2010 Arab spring that occasioned the collapse of some despotic regimes, our leadership doesn’t seem to learn anything. Last year, police shooting of a black man in France resulted in days of riots across France. In 2011, people protesting police brutality engineered riots across England. To the rioters, the police came across as ‘the worst criminal gang’ in existence. These are just isolated cases in which the police have sparked riots, and Kenya looks set on that path. There is a limit to what people can endure.

Live bullets

It is not in question that most police officers are incorrigible; that some of their seniors have no consciences, particularly in light of their propensity to defend the service any time it blunders into controversy. It was infuriating to hear senior police officers defend juniors who killed six-month-old baby Pendo in Kisumu, nine-year-old Moraa in Mathare North and seven-year-old Mutinda in Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate in 2017. One would be forgiven for thinking these individuals are not parents, that they lack capacity for that critical human emotion called love.

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For people who demonstrate dire lack of self-control even in situations where they have the upper hand, police officers should not be supplied with live bullets. All they need are rubber bullets, water canyons, teargas canisters and truncheons. These are adequate for crowd control.

In terms of human rights violations, Kenya sails in the same boat with failed states like Somalia and Burundi. We are not doing any better than the abattoirs that are Venezuela, Yemen, Turkey, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Transparency International ranks these countries among the top ten countries with human rights violations in 2017. Perhaps those in the higher echelons of the police service find solace in the fact that the US is among these sorry countries. However, the US’ case is different if only because the hate against non-Americans is overtly propagated by US President Donald Trump himself.

More than pupils, police officers need a drastic curriculum change.  A mindset change is an imperative. We no longer live in the age when brute force defined the police . Citizens enjoy more rights guaranteed by the constitution; among them the right to fair trial, right to life and freedom of movement and association which the police cannot curtail through the barrel of the gun.

It is not a crime to be poor, it is a reflection of a failing leadership when citizens live in abject poverty, yet dutifully pay taxes.

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Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

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