Kenya: When Police Break the Law, Society is at Risk

The Kenyan police are once more under scrutiny for their excessive use of force against unarmed civilians.

The police’s high-handed reaction to a protest called by the opposition to rally support for the resignation of the electoral commission on May 16, has generated condemnation from a wide range of Kenyans, diplomats and international human-rights groups.

Video footage showing police descending on protesters with batons, water cannons, and teargas has shocked the world.

A particular clip showing police officers kicking and stomping on a man lying motionless on the ground is now doing the rounds on social media and is unfortunately being described as representative of the character of the Kenya police.

But that should not be the case in a society where the police have been calling for closer collaboration with the public through community policing in the war against hardened criminals and Al Shabaab terrorists.

While police bosses maintained that some of the protesters had carried bags of rocks, which they hurled at the police officers, as well as engaging in robbery and harassment of motorists and shopkeepers, there are laid down procedures on how the police should handle protests.

The common thread here is that the country appears to be going back to the days of single-party rule when police brutality was the norm rather than the exception.

The 2010 Constitution sought to reform the police from a force into a responsible service. The Constitution also allows peaceful protests and picketing as a means of seeking for amends for those who feel that their rights have been violated.

Chapter 7(5) of the National Police Service Act, 2011, provides that a police officer shall always attempt to use non-violent means first and force may only be employed when non-violent means are ineffective or hold out no promise of achieving the intended result.

Any use of force must be proportional to the final objective, which is restoration of law and order and protection of property, and not to maim as was witnessed during the Monday demonstrations.

Recent trends show that the police fire teargas at crowds at the slightest provocation. Last year, police teargassed children and teachers of Langata Road Primary School during a protest over the sale of the school’s playground to a real estate developer.

However, it is encouraging that both Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet and the chairman of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Chairman, Macharia Njeru, have promised to carry out an investigation and discipline those found to have broken the law.

However, with the opposition led by Raila Odinga saying that demonstrations will continue every Monday until the commissioners resign, the onus is on the organisers of the demonstrations to ensure that their supporters picket within the law without giving any excuse to the police to use excessive force.

The only way to stamp out police brutality is to ensure that the police’s actions are investigated and that those responsible for abuses are held to account.

Source: The East African