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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

End complicity in handling crimes during virus period

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Both Minneapolis and Eastleigh attracted my attention this week. While both are under lockdown and have some similarities, Minneapolis is up in flames and Eastleigh is relatively peaceful. They both offer important insights how not to manage a pandemic. 

With a population of 226,000 people, Eastleigh is one of Nairobi’s largest, most entrepreneurial and cosmopolitan estates. The concentration of Kenyan Somalis and influx of Somalis from our neighbouring Somali has earned it the nickname of little Mogadishu.

Minneapolis has roughly double the population of Eastleigh. It is the State of Minnesota’s largest city. Nearly 20% of the population are black and of them, 74,000 are of Somali origin. The Somali-American community own over 600 businesses worth nearly half a billion dollars. Both Eastleigh and Minneapolis are currently under a COVID-19 lockdown. 

Walking through Eastleigh last weekend researching this article, I was curious to hear how the lockdown was affecting residents, socially, economically and politically. The estate has been on lockdown since May 7. Movement in and out of the area will remain highly restricted until June 6. Incidents of police brutality in the early days of the curfew have reduced, especially in areas where community leaders have joined policing patrols. Initial suspicions that locking down Eastleigh, Old Town Mombasa and Mandera were driven by anti-Islamic profiling reduced after the post-lockdown visit and assurances by the Interior Cabinet Secretary. 

With many relatives in the diaspora and places like Minnesota, most residents are aware of the risks of contracting COVID-19. However, most Muslims excused themselves from the mass testing. Fears that taking nose and throat swabs might induce vomiting and prematurely break the Ramadhan fast, kept most Muslims away. The lockdown boundaries were set without recognising that Section 3 and Biafra residents depend on the rest of Eastleigh for their livelihoods and markets. Unless the boundaries are redrawn, they will remain disconnected and displaced.

Getting in and out of Eastleigh’s roadblocks costs between Kshs 50 and 100 for non-critical and essential service-providers I am told. Probably inspired by this lawlessness, NYS cadet Brighton Muganda decided to open his own roadblock and amassed Kshs 1,750 in bribes before he was arrested. 

Post lockdown public health education and mass testing is still almost non-existent. Much of the blunders could have avoided or managed with closer consultation with local community and religious leaders. Top-down planning in air-conditioned boardrooms have their conveniences but also carry fatal flaws. 

Minneapolis faces the same pandemic and lockdown as Eastleigh. However, unlike Eastleigh, Minneapolis is in flames. Thousands have come onto the streets to protest the recorded brutal murder of a black civilian George Floyd by a white Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Shockingly, it has been discovered that Officer Chauvin has 18 prior complaints against him. 170 businesses have been destroyed, US President Trump has threatened to shoot protesters and 400 National Guards have been drafted but, the four officers have neither been officially named or charged with murdering George Floyd. The street protests continue to spread to seven other states. 

Tragically, about the same time Floyd was being suffocated, the number of Minnesotans who died from COVID-19 surged towards 1,000 mark. The state’s 60 day stay at home order is now in complete disarray. Medics have started to warn about the dangers of street protests causing a new spike in infections. 

Unlawful police violence is the most unsophisticated tool in the arsenal of any state. This week, social media was awash of gory photos of infants tear-gassed in their homes and men sexually abused or beaten to a pulp. Two-month old Hasanat Shamsu, barber Samuel Maina, vendor Mark Oreyo and others deserve justice. They are a small number of the over 251 complaints raised against the police service since March 15. Twenty-eight people have been killed by police-officers and human rights organisations are now handling 202 cases of gender-based violence. 

Only fourteen un-named police officers have been disciplined. The State must now lift the veil of secrecy around these disciplinary actions. Anonymity does not protect their victims. It emboldens other officers to think there will be no consequences for their actions. Like Americans, we too must face the charge of personal and public complicity in the presence of violent criminals, in and out of uniform. 

In September 2018, the President and Interior Cabinet Secretary stood before the nation to declare that henceforth, commanding officers would be held responsible for the actions of their officers. There has been preciously little that has happened to match this declaration. Our hope and public confidence deficit deepens.

First published Saturday Standard, May 30, 2020

Police Officer Derek Chauvin has since been arrested. The protests continue to rage.


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