When they kill our children, we mourn, but hurry, the political rally is just about to start

Tuesday October 24 2017

A police officer kicks Boniface Manono during the anti-IEBC protests on May 16, 2016.  AFP PHOTO | CARL DE SOUZA

A police officer kicks a protester during the anti-IEBC protests on May 16, 2016. AFP PHOTO | CARL DE SOUZA 

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Reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International as well as local human-rights organisations show that close to 40 people have been shot by police since the August 8 election. Police claim that those who were shot were violent protesters. But the profiles of the victims in the reports contradict police claims.

One victim was a young girl shot as she played on the veranda of her house. Another was a high-school student clubbed to death by police as he sat doing his homework inside his home. But the most horrifying was the clubbing to death of an infant when police broke into her mother’s house.

Other victims were shot in the back or at close range. These deaths indicate a police force still operating under the rules of the Kanu police state.

The extrajudicial killings are not an anomaly, the actions of a few rogue policemen. They are really the culmination of the systematic police brutality we have witnessed in the past couple of years.

When the six-month-old infant referred to above was clobbered to death, the emotion expressed on social media s platforms, in newspaper columns or in private social gatherings was horrified grief. How could this happen? We asked. And yet every now and then, we have been witnessing brutal police behaviour that should have indicated that such an atrocity was not far off.

The problem is that after a moment of horror at this barbarity, we push the incidents to the distant parts of our memory, eager to get back to our national pastime – politics.

But not politics as practised in civilised countries, but an atrocious tribalised politics in which we discuss the intellectual and moral inadequacies of this or that tribe, or which tribal combination will ensure victory at the polls.

And so when police teargassed children, some as young as seven years old, protesting the grabbing of their school field by a powerful Jubilee politician, we held our heads in grief and horror for a while, but soon quickly pushed the episode to the shadowy corners of our minds.

Our media, too, was soon onto the next political drama, featuring the tribalist shenanigans of yet another politician. And so questions that should have been asked relentlessly until we got answers were left by the wayside.

Questions such as: What happened to the children who were rushed to hospital unconscious? Have the children recovered physically and psychologically from that experience? Were the policemen who lobbed the teargas and their commanders who gave the order sanctioned?

We refuse to see that it is only by asking these kinds of questions relentlessly that we shall be able to develop a culture of intolerance to police brutality and a legal framework to curb and punish illegal or criminal police action.

Instead, we bury our heads in the sand and hope such brutality will not happen again. But it always does. For instance, there has been another incident of police lobbing teargas at children in another school. Again, we have expressed outrage. But only for a while. Our attention has been drawn back to the campaigns for the repeat presidential poll on October 26.

Then again, police entered the University of Nairobi halls of residence and beat students who were not demonstrating, and sexually harassed the female students.

Again, people expressed outrage, but only for a while, because we needed to rush to the next political rally and listen to our favourite tribal demagogues tell us in coded language why this or that tribe is the cause of Kenya’s problems.

But as the shooting of the young girl playing on her veranda, the clubbing to death of an infant, the extrajudicial killing of demonstrators and non-demonstrators show, police brutality will only get worse.

The middle class, as always, thinks that it is a problem for other people. They do not realise that when the hold on resources or power by the political class is threatened, tribe or class will not be protection enough. Only collective outrage by everybody and relentless pursuit of justice for the victims of police brutality, no matter their class or ethnicity, will eventually bring this evil to an end.

Kenyans must realise that more valuable than the tribal contests that we call elections, is the building of laws, systems and a culture of democracy, because that is what will protect our children and ourselves from police brutality, no matter the tribal formation that is in power.

Tee Ngugi is a social commentator. E-mail: [email protected]