The killing of George Floyd has struck a unique chord among all decent human beings regardless of race, class and gender and political persuasion. A video clip, taken by a 17-year-old has painfully relayed how Mr Floyd was killed by a uniformed police officer.
This killing was unnervingly too familiar to the black community which has borne the brunt of a system that devalues black lives and humanity. In Kenya, the outrage generated online and offline has sparked conversations on the peculiar selective amnesia and dishonesty among citizens who choose to agitate against injustice in the US, while remaining silent, indifferent or apathetic against systemic police brutality, killings and disappearances at home.
Like in America, these abuses are confined to poorer neighbourhoods, often justified by the proclaimed need for a more forceful policing occasioned by high crime prevalence.
Since March 13, many Kenyans have been killed or maimed by police. The fatal shooting of 13-year-old Yasin Moyo and the lack of action so far, reveals a culture of impunity and devaluing of lives that has gone out of control.
Last week, hairdresser Samuel Maina was brutalised in Kahawa West, Nairobi, and a two-month-old baby was also teargassed in Huruma. This week, a man named ‘Vaite’ was fatally shot in Mathare. It is noteworthy that none of the many cases has resulted in press statements or conferences by the police, unlike what has been happening in Minneapolis.
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The closest to a response was the April apology by the president. But his apology did not address the fundamental problem nor offer a solution.
There have also been insinuations by the Interior ministry and National Police Service that the violence is a result of ‘a few rotten apples’. By my count, these ‘few rotten apples’ have become too many and consistent to suggest they must be coming from an infected tree within the force.
In October last year, the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) surprised many when it reversed the decision to remove 300 police officers that were found unsuitable by the previous commission.
NPSC also stated that it would no longer punish officers in public in order to boost police morale. Interestingly, this coincided with a spike in cases of officers involved in crimes such as robbery, kidnapping and theft.
The mixed signals between strict application of law on the one hand and a government that sometimes ignores court orders have emboldened the police to act extra-judicially. Police literally enforce decisions taken by civilian political authorities in compliance with the political order of the day.
This goes to show that the police do not operate outside civilian leadership. There is a level of acquiescence and apologetics involved. For instance, when the police knowingly evicted Kariobangi Sewerage residents despite a court order, did they pause to think of the consequences and rule of law implications?
The Constitution 2010, informed by various commissions of inquiry such as the Waki Report on Post-Election Violence, Philip Alston Report on extrajudicial killings and Philip Ransley report on police reforms, was categorical on the appointment, operational and financial independence of the Inspector General (IG), police formations, command and individual responsibility, civilian oversight, internal oversight through the Internal Affairs Unit and the use of force and firearms.
Since 2011, the Ministry of Interior has declined or failed to give the IG authority to incur expenses (AIE), meaning that the IG is not an accounting officer.
This greatly hinders the IG’s ability to plan, allocate, reallocate and even account for his budget that controls over 110,000 officers. This failure effectively makes the IG financially and functionally beholden to the Executive, contrary to the letter and spirit of the constitution.
Furthermore, the National Corners Service and the Prevention of Torture Acts are yet to be operationalised despite passage of both in 2017. The laws would go a long way in fighting unlawful use of force, extrajudicial killings and torture by taking away forensic investigation mandate of suspicious deaths from the police and setting up redress mechanisms for victims.
Only when the government truly recommits to the rule of law, announces a zero tolerance policy on abuse of police power, empowers the IG to independently do his job by giving him AIE, will we reap the benefits of a professional, accountable and human rights compliant police service.
Mr Kiprono is a constitutional and Human Rights Lawyer. [email protected]