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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Ending violent policing will require relentless vigilance

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Tuesday’s shooting of good samaritan Daniel “Daddy” Mburu by Police Officer Zadock Achuka has outraged the nation once again. While this may turn out to be one of the greatest tragedies of 2020, what happened next, may give us hope that we may be slowly turning the corner on the use of excessive and deadly force by the National Police Service.

The facts in the late Mburu’s case are in public domain. The 24-year-old Korogocho resident and boda boda rider rode his motorcycle into Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital to save a child who had almost drowned. He was neither a paramedic nor a police officer, but paramedics would have recognised what he was doing. He was acting in that golden hour between life and death. The golden hour is the period of time following a traumatic injury when the absence of medical treatment could lead to permanent injury or death.

The compassionate and constitutionalists among us would have recognized what he was doing. He was acting to ensure the child got the full protection of the Patients’ Rights Charter and Article 43.3 of the constitution. The law states clearly that all Kenyans have the right to receive emergency treatment in any health facility irrespective of their ability to pay. Like Mary Jengo who chose not flee and lost her life while saving other Moi Girls Secondary school students in 2018, Mburu is the closest many of us will get to a Guardian Angel.

How he ended up being shot for his compassion is difficult to understand but understand and act on it, we must. To remain silent and just move on, is to invite a repetition of this tragic moment. As always, the answer lies in facts, trends and our collective inaction in the face of the truth.

The Missing Voices Civic Alliance have just released their 2019 report on the use of deadly and excessive use force by National Police Service. Over 2019, 107 men and women were killed by the police officers. Fifty per cent of the killings took place in Nairobi with 69 per cent of the dead being between 18-35 years of age. Less than 10 per cent of these cases have led to the arrests of officers. They include 2-year-old Duncan Githinji of Soweto, Karasani killed by three bullets, 24-year-old Ahmed Hemed who was unarmed when he was killed by three bullets in Majengo or 17-year-old Stephen Macharusi who was also unarmed and killed during the Kasarani, Mwiki demonstration earlier this year.

Most of these cases have failed to prick the conscience or provoke elected leaders, law enforcement officers or everyday citizens to decisively act. This is why what next happened in Uhuru Park, Vigilance House and the Senate floor over a period of seventy-two hours is so significant. Under the leadership of Chairperson Kevin Mubadi, the 800,000 strong Boda Boda Safety Association publicly demanded swift arrests and the arraignment of the officer before a court for killing their colleague.

The Police Spokesperson announced that the Directorate of Criminal Investigation had disarmed and detained the officer and would be taking him to court. On the floor of the Senate, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja rose to demand the National Police Inspector-General be held liable for the actions of his officers. The Senate will summon the IG to reassure the country that new regulations are in place to improve humane, professional and responsible policing even during public demonstrations. They have also announced that the Legal Affairs Committee will hold public hearings across Nairobi’s informal settlements within two weeks. Perhaps this could be emulated by County Assemblies across the country.

Extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances are sadly not new to Kenya. National heroine Mary Muthoni Nyanjiru is probably one of our earliest and most famous victim of an extra-judicial killing. Nearly a century ago, she and tens of other protestors were either killed or injured by police askaris and settlers while drinking on the veranda of the Nairobi Norfolk Hotel on March 16, 1922. Their “crime” was demonstrating against the arrest of nationalist Harry Thuku.

While it remains to be seen whether this week’s new energy and decisive actions will remove the dangers of violent policing from our country, it does offer a glimmer of hope. The full eradication of this practice will require eternal vigilance. We owe it to the family and memory of Daniel Mburu and our own safety to continue to demand that Police Officers respect our right to life.

First published Saturday Standard, February 22, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group


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