Police, protesters must not behave like criminals

Kisumu residents participate in Azimio's mass action on March 20, 2023. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Today marks the second week of the demonstrations called by Azimio La Umoja to protest the high cost of living, among other concerns. After the first demos held on Monday last week, Raila Odinga announced the opposition would hold bi-weekly demonstrations on Mondays and Thursdays until the government accedes to its demands.

Calls for dialogue have largely fallen on deaf ears as both sides of the political divide dig in; each intent on staring the other side down. Last week's demonstrations turned chaotic after the police tried to disperse demonstrators, claiming the protests were illegal.

On the other hand, the opposition insisted the protests were legal because it had notified the police of its intentions. In the ensuing standoff, there was damage to property, wanton theft of property and many people were injured. A student at Maseno University was also shot dead.

Kenyans want to see the opposition holding peace demonstrations as its leadership has consistently assured and in line with the Constitution. What transpired during last week's demonstrations as police officers and demonstrators unleashed violence on each other without provocation was shameful and uncalled for. It was nothing short of criminality.

The right to picket does not give demonstrators the right to destroy property, cause mayhem or attack law enforcers. What the law envisages is a passive, non-intrusive way of passing a message to the authorities through orderly, peaceful demonstrations. Conversely, police shouldn't treat peaceful protestors as enemies by detonating tear gas canisters, bludgeoning and even firing bullets at them with careless abandon.

We expect better from police officers and demonstrators today and in any other demonstration that is planned. While demonstrators exercise their right to picket, they should respect the rights of other Kenyans to go about their businesses unmolested.

Blocking roads, harassing and robbing innocent Kenyans is unacceptable, which is why Raila must call his troops to order if he truly cares about ordinary people whose interests he is agitating for. Both protesters and the police must be guided by the law, not by their own wild whims.

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