It’s time we cured the cancer of police brutality

By Odhiambo Emmanuel Ochieng | Thursday, Apr 2nd 2020 at 12:22
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Utumishi Kwa Wote, so goes our police motto. It's interesting that a department can have such a reassuring motto, and yet the personnel are a vanguard of a disservice to all. The majority wallow in the miasma of colonial administration. We promulgated a constitution in 2010 that provided a comprehensive Bill of Rights. These rights listed in the constitution are nothing but a reference as far as the police force is concerned. They only glance at the rights but do not abide by them.

Police brutality is legally defined as a civil rights violation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a civilian. For Kenyans, this has been the norm whenever police officers are involved. When the president declared a curfew as one of the measures to combat COVID-19, it automatically meant involving the men in blue in the fight. Kenyans perceive the police as oppressors rather than protectors or enforcers of the law. Thus, immediately after this announcement, social media was awash with memes indicating how police will unleash violence. This, in itself, proved that we have normalized police brutality. But we cannot be reproached for harboring such intuition. Perhaps it's the way they do it repeatedly that has made it appear normal.

From stopping peaceful demonstrations, evictions to imposing curfews, brutality is the language the police will use. As the nationwide curfew took effect on Friday evening, 27th March, cases of police brutality were witnessed in certain parts of the country. There was chaos at the Likoni ferry in Mombasa as police and commuters clashed. This was occasioned by the residents' rush to beat the curfew deadline. On Monday 30th March, the police were alleged to have shot a boy Yassin Moyo, 13, as they enforced a curfew in Kiamaiko. The boy later died at Mama Lucy Hospital. Human Rights Watch and members of the civil society have documented some of these atrocities.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) was established with one of the mandates being to investigate deaths and serious injuries caused by police action. One would reckon that such a body would inhibit the police from using violence. But this is far from the truth. One ponders why? Perhaps it is a case of the alligator being given the mandate to ensure the crocodile does not prey on the goat. To imply they have done nothing completely is tantamount to prevarication. At least in some cases, the wheels of justice have rolled albeit slowly. Case in point is the suspension of the officer who was recorded beating a student during demonstrations at JKUAT. We believe more can be done impartially and with the utmost speed. Possibly when the officers realize that action can and will be taken, they can be deterred from unleashing violence haphazardly.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police commissioned a report in the causes of misconduct in policing. They concluded that three systematic factors have to be addressed in order to deal with misconduct in policing. First was the pressure to conform to certain "police culture," such as protecting the interest of the police who violate the law and a "we-they' perspective in which outsiders are viewed with suspicion—secondly, a command and control structures with rigid hierarchical foundation. The last one was deficiencies in internal accountability mechanisms. IPOA can borrow from the report to cure the cancer of police brutality.

It is also our responsibility as patriotic Kenyans to shun police brutality in totality. They invented a slogan 'Security starts with you' well an end to police violence starts with you. Let us be law-abiding citizens, record incidents of injustice, and condemn them vehemently. Let us understand circumstances that the police are legally permitted to use force. It's shameful as most of us are mute spectators. We watch as the few who speak have their voices choked. We say it is deserved when it is meted out on our enemies and neighbors. We only condemn and empathize when it is our 'people' or relatives.

Dear Security personnel stand up and have courage, take cudgels against illegal activities. Be a savior to innocents. Avoid unleashing violence vaingloriously. Resort to peaceful ways of solving conflict where force is unnecessary. Help each other to see the error of your terror. During this pandemic, we need your services the most. Together let us show the world that it is possible to police without violence.

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