The seeming surge in fatal shootings by police officers has become one of Kenya’s most discordant issue in the recent past raising a legitimate concern of whether the disciplined forces operate under an “us versus them” mindset, one that regards the public as more dangerous than it is.
The latest cases of suspected police killings include that of Ms Janet Wangui Waiyaki who lost her life to what has now been revealed as a collective 15 rounds of bullets on her and a companion who were undoubtedly unarmed.
The parallels in this case with ones we have heard about most recently are more chilling. Not too long ago seven-year-old Geoffrey Mutinda’s life was snuffed by a bullet while innocently playing on the balcony of their rental house in Pipeline Estate, Nairobi. A story similar to that of ten-year-old Stephanie Moraa, killed while playing on the balcony of her home in Mathare North.
This murders beg the question, is the proliferation of this shootings motivated just by brazen trigger-happy officers or by a impotent system that has incubated rogue officers overtime and when pressured by the public do not respond entirely or merely give the officer a slap on the wrist as punishment for taking innocent life?
It is not lost on us that across democracies, police have moved from protectors of rights to violators of freedoms. In 2014, the UN Committee against Torture condemned global police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies highlighting the frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed individuals.
Dissonantly, the local National Police Act 2011 permits the use of excessive force in situations where the life of a policeman is threatened, or when a criminal is escaping from custody. Even then, a warning must be given first. However, in all the above cases and those ones so far catalogued, the police have not been able to prove that this was the case in those incidents.
In two of the cases above, senior police officers denied police involvement in the said deaths, yet were at pains to tell Kenyans who the culprits were or apprehend them.
Kenyans horrified by the incidents can only hope the trigger-happy cops will not end up with medals and a promotion in a country that is fast curving a reputation of being altruistic to rule breakers with the prominent ones being rewarded with the state jobs.
Bottom line, anyone who shoots first and asks questions later, when he or she is clearly not facing an armed threat, must be made to face the consequences. Aggressive, confrontational policing is the least effective way to control crime. As a country we cannot afford to have a police service that is not only rogue, but partisan as has been observed in the past. A time has come when individual responsibility must be assigned to trigger-happy police officers to assuage the public.
Finally, it can be hard to adjust the narratives we process life through, especially when the past and even present justify that narrative in so many ways. However, there is no doubt that when policing results to excessive force, the stakes are grievously high. Our conversation must be based on viable options of a system overhaul in the disciplined forces and most importantly in their engagements with civilians. Also the force must embark on serious measures to redeem its reputation and restore Kenyans confidence across board.