Utumishi kwa wote. That motto does not give Kenyans a sense of security, yet it is supposed to. It inspires mistrust, insecurity and fear. Service to all is a motto that provokes hate – and hatred towards the Kenya Police Service and triggers retaliation by officers who keep proving that protecting Kenyans is the last in their list of tasks.
Ever since the first coronavirus case was reported in Kenya and restriction of movement measures instituted to curb its spread, Kenyans have been living in fear. In all aspects, it has been a painful period.
They have been realising the raw and sinful power that police officers wield. People being whipped, nay, clobbered for the smallest of infractions, with the officers seeming to enjoy every part of it as if they get rewarded thereafter based on the number of people they put through misery.
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Their open display of barbarity has led to calls for police reforms, which may seem new to the millennials, centennials and episodic online activists who are old enough not to know that such calls have been made before. Their parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents who are young enough to have been aware of their surroundings in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, made such calls too, and the result is what we have now.
Kenyan police officers can as well be the biggest criminals on earth. They have been accused of committing every imaginable crime, and at times they have been caught in the act, but hao nani? They cannot stop.
From accepting bribes of the lowest denomination to carrying out bank heists, to brazenly shooting people dead – kidnapping, raping, drug and human trafficking, hiring out their official law enforcement tools to criminals, selling court exhibits and robbing the dead even in their graves and committing every offence in between, Kenya’s police have done it all and they are unfazed.
During this pandemic, their victims have mostly been people whose economic well-being has been hit hard by the disease and did not even have the energy to deliberately break any rules put in place to curb the spread of the virus.
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They were mostly rushing home, after a hard day’s work to stay safe, only for their lives to be cut short by people whose constabulary duty is to keep Kenyans safe.
What is it that ails our police service, you may ask? What do the officers miss or have in abundance that inspires them to maim, and makes them happy to see people suffer and die at their hands? Are they intrinsically brutal? Is it their training or only people with criminal records make the cut to be recruited?
But truth be written, Kenyans, we are the Frankenstein. We created, and we continue to feed this monster, overtly and covertly through our love for underhand deals and shortcuts. We flout and break all the laws and rules while fully aware that we will bribe police officers and get our way, and get away.
We bribe to pass driving test but complain when a reckless driver is not apprehended. We drive while drunk and bribe them not to lock us in but call them names when a passenger bus with an inebriated driver at the wheel turns turtle. We pay police officers to lose or deliberately forget any incriminating evidence against us.
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We hire them to shield us and to eliminate our enemies. We buy from them items they have stolen or illegally confiscated – car accessories, court exhibits and even drugs, but we complain about their despicable behaviour.
We cheer them on when their victims are our political enemies and excoriate equal rights activists who call them out. But when we are on the receiving end, we whine like jilted adolescents and wail about the need for police reforms.
Above all, we give bribes so that our kin can be recruited into the service.
It has been suggested several times that police officers’ terms of service, nay, servitude, working and living conditions play a big role in their actions. It has been alluded that they are traumatised, tormented, are mentally unstable and should not be held responsible for their actions. But as their victims, and employers, shouldn’t we know how we want them to be, how they can be tamed and take action? Do we want them to be multi-purpose officers who are called upon in every situation as it happens now and still be the ones to take bribes?
What is it exactly that we want reformed? Their uniform was changed from ugly blue to death blue and their corporate name changed from force to service – wasn’t that enough?
Who are these police officers who cause us so much harm? Where are their parents, their spouses, their kin? Where were they bred and which education system did they go through?
In which society did they grow up and what triggers their brutality, depravity and barbarity and makes us complicit in their heinous crimes?
These are simple, and simplistic questions because they do not address any legalities or the National Police Service Act, but they should inform the police service we want and the kind of reforms we desire.
We have to answer them, as a nation. We cannot leave the burden of reforming the police service on the shoulders of a few equal rights activists whom we do not even like, anyway.
We all have to find a way and act because we are all victims, yet we all aid and abet the perpetrators.
And by the way, are we even ready to live in a society without corrupt, murderous, ill-trained and brutal police officers?
- The writer is an editor with The Standard.