Tuesday, May 22, 2007

When the Police See Red

When constabulary duty is to be done,
A policeman's lot is not a happy one!

A week ago I had a conversation with a total stranger at my local pub which centred on the rampant insecurity and the recent deaths of 3 policemen at the hands of armed gangsters. The fellow made an interesting point: the police are at a distinct disadvantage because they are required to identify themselves while the thugs are anonymous faces in the crowd. So to even out these odds the police simply treat all as potential gangsters, shooting first and asking questions later.

Reports in yesterday's Nation seem to bear out this out.
Police in pursuit of suspected car-jackers shot dead an innocent vegetable trader, Cyrus Kabiru Mwaniki, at his kiosk in Dandora estate, Nairobi, even as the man went on his knees begging for mercy...Mr Mwaniki’s younger sister, Anne Wambui, who also stays on the same plot, recalls hearing gun shots outside the compound and running with the neighbours to peep through the cracks on the wooden gate to see what was happening. Ms Wambui remembers hearing three gun shots minutes apart and the voice of her brother pleading to be spared as he was not a thief. "Mwaniki shouted about 10 times, 'I am not a thief! I am not a thief!' But finally he went silent after the third gun shot was heard," said a tearful Ms Wambui...."It took him some time to realise they were police officers and when he came to, he knelt and started pleading saying he was not a thief," said a man who was being served in the kiosk opposite at the time of the incident. The witnesses said police shot another man who was running away before ordering Mr Mwaniki to lie down and also shooting him on the head, killing him instantly.
Mr Benson Mwangi Waraga’s body was found at the City Mortuary only 10 hours after he was arrested from his business premises near the scene of a shoot-out between police and gangsters... A picture taken by a Nation photo-journalist between 2.30pm and 4pm on Thursday at the River Road scene of crime shows Mr Waraga sandwiched between a policeman and an unidentified person, both of who were being forced into a police Land Rover...When he went missing from the police station, his relatives were worried and started looking for him. They later found his body at the mortuary. The father of eight was [according to the police] among those killed in a shoot-out between the police and gangsters near City Park on Thursday afternoon.
The question is: Are the police justified in engaging in extra-judicial murder in their bid to rid society of the agents of insecurity? A while back I argued on several blogs that that should not be the case. When the infamous Matheri was gunned down in dubious circumstances (following a "shoot-out" with police which witnesses say never happened), many applauded the police action then. I hope that they will be rethinking their stand in the light of the latest events.