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The day I was arrested for not wearing a mask

By Brian Rop | June 30th 2020

It still gives you chills when you think about it – a mean faced and determined man suddenly grabs you, and without the benefit of introductions, handcuffs you and leads you to a waiting police car. Your greatest crime? Not wearing a mask.

He grabs another woman and asks his female colleague to escort her to the waiting police pick-up. Cuffed, for the first time in your life, you find it difficult to board the car. There are other culprits, some with forlorn and sad faces, and some did not betray any emotions as thoughts raced in your head where the whole thing would lead.

The police car, guided by the OCS, goes around picking up ‘offenders.’ An advanced team of plain-clothed police officers went ahead, arresting people without masks then hauling them into the car, hurling obscenities.

Before long, the fishing trip is over, having taken you around, hoping that you would crack and give them something. You are now crammed in the truck. The police officers order you to sit on top of each other.

“Kalia mwenzako ka hataki kusonga!” a policewoman barked as though she was performing an extremely noble gesture to humanity.

Through the fishing expedition, the police officers hurl insults at you, suggesting that you are half-human, some human mongrels that required immediate extermination from the phase of earth. You are the worst vermin that ever graced the planet, perhaps even worse than coronavirus itself.

They wanted to break you down by their sustained insults. They want you to curve in. A young light-skinned gentleman curses under his breath, although loudly.

“Hii corona irudi tu china,” he begins. “I had just stepped out of the gate.” He tried to explain himself. He had his mask in his hand. A female officer retorts that his mask is one of the dirtiest she had ever seen.

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She orders us to shut up, even when no one was talking. You wondered what sort of poison these officers are fed with, that they suddenly morphed into inhuman subspecies on this earth. Their faces did not portray a single element that could have identified themselves as human.

Here we are trying to fight a pandemic, and here are people ever ready to spread it for the sake of five hundred shillings bribe. You are crammed like a sack of rotten potatoes, ready to spoil the next.

Unfortunately, the thought that someone among you may be carrying the dreaded disease does not register. What you and everyone in the police car are thinking is freedom. Who do I call? Who will bail me out?

The police car snakes its way through some unfamiliar place, leaving you completely disoriented. Suddenly, however, you see familiar landmarks after what seemed like an eternity of torture. Time moves slowly when all you are thinking about is freedom.

Then the police car gets back to where you were arrested and makes its way to the police station. Your freedom is now merchandised. It is suddenly one of the best selling brands, and there is nothing you can do about it. You have to make a purchase. Or a phone call if you are ‘connected.’

Once the police car docks with the cargo at the police station, the grumpy light-skinned guy is called by the OCS. He does not know him. He calls a name. He had made a brief call to someone. He earns his freedom. He bolts away like an antelope fleeing from a hungry cheater.

The rest are ordered to wash your hands, leading like a herd of cows to cattle dip inside the station. A man in some blue protective gear sprays your feet with what appears to be water. Once inside, they order you to remove one of your shoes, and the belt.

The insults continue as your names are being written on a piece of paper. They ask you to hand over your phones. A policewoman handling the reception desk tries so hard to sound harsh but comes short. She calls another officer to frisk you, and then lead you to the holding cell.

A cocktail of human waste, sweat, and frustration immediately hit your nostrils when you enter the holding cell. There are so many guys lying on the cell thick rubber mattress on the floor. They are engaged in animated talk about a topic you did not bother to grasp.

Strangely, they had their phones! While yours were confiscated a while ago! You scan the environment, not the small ventilation window, words scribbled on the wall, and of course, the famous bucket on the corner – the primary source of the stench. A man casually rises and makes use of the bucket.

After a few minutes, you are handed your phones. The policewoman had suddenly thawed and became human. The arresting officers had gone back for another fishing expedition. Rumors begin spreading that one can get out for as low as five hundred shillings, but that was subject to the OCS’s figure. He had accompanied the able team of gallant officers determined to ‘contain’ the spread of coronavirus.

The pensive wait begins. Frantic calls are made. A guy borrows your phone. You continue scanning the walls. There are incorrigible names. One grabs your attention – it read MBA. What was the symbol of that name? Some were way up near the flaking roof, and you wonder how they reached there.

After what seems like an eternity, the OCS shows up and makes an announcement – the much-anticipated announcement that could either keep you in for the weekend or give you freedom.

“Cash bail is five thousand. You are thieves, and some we’ve caught smoking bhang!” he declared.

A part of you sinks into an abyss, an abyss you would make even attempt to save your behind. You have less than two thousand in your pockets.


After securing your freedom, you quickly purchase a mask, not to prevent coronavirus, but to avoid having to bargain your freedom with callous and barbaric police officers ever quick to make a dime from hardworking Kenyans.

The officers continue harassing people in your hood. If you have a mask, but it dangles under your chin, perhaps because you want to take a bite, you are a potential culprit. 

As the number of cases continues rising, we need to exercise caution and follow the laid down rules and procedures to contain the spread. The end is still far away, but with precautions, we shall get there. Sanitise, wear your mask (not for the police), social distance, and stay at home. 

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