It's All Political

Descent into anarchy begins with police brutality

Call me naïve but I still believe in the rule of law. There is order to society, and that order must be protected, upheld and respected. The minute we begin to chip away at the framework of rules and regulations that governs human interaction, we begin the descent into anarchy.

When state agents take the law into their own hands and bypass the entire judicial system, we should be very afraid. The fact that policemen and women are licensed to carry deadly weapons does not give them the power to decide who lives and who dies. Indeed, an entire schedule in the National Police Service Act is dedicated to regulating the use of force and firearms.

The act recognises that there is such a thing as the unlawful use of force, and to that end creates rigid parameters within which officers can fire their weapons. It states specifically that police officers shall make every effort to avoid the use of their firearms.

That is the law of the land. But with this latest shooting, where a man said to be a police officer fired at least 10 bullets into the back of a suspect who was unarmed and lying face down on the ground, it is obvious that a parallel justice system obtains in parts of the capital, and that system is ruled by the law of the jungle.

Police officers are authorized by law to apprehend offenders, they are not empowered to murder them; but in a man-eat-man society where only the ruthless survive, criminals have become emboldened and officers have become judge, jury and executioner.

When you throw the corruption spanner in the works – and the fact the very policemen who hunt down offenders and execute them are many times complicit in criminal activity – you have the makings of a severely ungovernable society.

Reactions to the video clip that showed one young man lying dead, and another being executed in cold blood and broad daylight, were split right down the middle.

The killings were condemned and commended in equal measure. Those who agreed with the execution applauded the officers for “doing their job”. The young men who lost their lives were characterised as hardened criminals, and part of a notorious gang whose members killed their victims indiscriminately.

The suggestion that they should have been apprehended and taken through a legal process was laughed off as ridiculously naïve, reason being that they would easily pay their way out of police custody. The irony of policemen purporting to fight crime, and then abetting it, was lost on many who made this argument.

The debate went back and forth, but for me one post on a popular social media platform stood out. The poster said that the dead men were hard core criminals who had shot and killed two police officers. He said that they had been warned by police and given three chances to reform.

When reform was not forthcoming, the suspects were ordered to leave Nairobi for good or face the consequences. When that didn’t happen, they were eliminated. The poster concluded by saying that it was God’s will for the two young men to die and that officers are armed for a reason.

All but one person who commented on this post agreed. The naïve idea that the officers should have apprehended the offender, like they are mandated to do by law, and taken him through a legal process was dismissed out of hand.

There was a tacit understanding that to a great extent, residents in the capital – and no doubt in cities and locales across the country – are governed by the law of the jungle where those who live by the sword die by the sword, and everyone else lives in fear of becoming collateral damage.

But beyond matters of law, order and due process, there is one aspect of the killings that should give us pause, and that is the fact that they were carried out in the light of day, in front of a crowd of witnesses. If you’ve been struggling to grasp the full meaning of impunity, that is it right there. Those two officers held the power of life and death in their hands, and they used it without any visible sign of remorse.

To be clear, having been a victim of armed robbery at the hands of gun-wielding youths, one of whom was so high he could have shot me accidentally, I have zero sympathy for thugs. In fact, in the days and weeks after that incident, had I owned a gun and encountered even a petty criminal, I probably would have shot them too.

The compulsion for retribution was strong, especially since it very quickly became clear that they would never be brought to justice thanks to a lethargic investigative and prosecutorial system.

But I am not an officer. It is not my job to maintain law and order. As soon as the men and women in the force put on their uniforms and become recognisable as agents of the State, they are held to a higher and very clearly defined standard. If a few rogue officers persist in falling below it, they will drag us all down with them.