A video, that surfaced on Friday, purportedly showing a police officer shooting a suspected criminal dead has evoked mixed responses from Kenyans. The video shows a man in a red shirt, purportedly a police officer, shooting someone several times before reloading the gun and shooting the man again, taking his life. While there are those who have condemned this act, a section of the public seems to support this action given indications that the slain young man in the video was a member of a gang that had terrorised residents in Eastleigh. This mixed reaction is to some extent expected given that on the same Friday a policeman was shot dead by gunmen he was chasing in Kayole, Nairobi.
In the face of runaway insecurity that ranges from unresolved murder, mugging to violent robberies, is support for extrajudicial killings justified?
Supporters of extrajudicial killing of suspected criminals believe that if the criminals are not killed, they are the ones who will do the killing. Beyond this, it is believed that extrajudicial killings can serve as a deterrent to crime. The reality is far from the truth. Kenya’s long history of extrajudicial killings can be traced back to the 1963-67 Shifta War and a series of public mass killings in the early 1980s as captured in the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Report. When faced with any security plight, the Kenyan Government has been known to set up a special police unit to address the issue. We have the 1990s Flying Squad that was known to shoot any suspect on sight without trial or any formal process. With the spread of Mungiki, the Government invented a special unit referred to as Kwekwe that is known to have gone beyond their mandate to search and capture Mungiki members. With the rise of terrorism came the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) that has been accused of extrajudicial killings. If indeed extrajudicial killings successfully serve as a deterrent to crime, then we would not see re-emergence of criminal elements that constantly forces the Government to be in constant reactionary mode, establishing special police units to address the crime. The unchanging truth is that violence only begets more violence as illustrated in the examples above. While criminals die as a result of extrajudicial killings, more criminals are emboldened to commit more crimes, since there is no way out for them.
The immediate and most saddening consequence of extrajudicial killings is the victimisation of innocent lives. Youth living in slums, in Kayole, Mukuru and Kibera, live in constant fear that they might not see their 25th birthday due to fear of dying from a policeman’s bullet. Beyond this, extrajudicial killing by the police has been used to settle personal scores as witnessed in the murder of lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josphat Mwendwa and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. As we have always looked back at the Wagala Massacre with remorse and sadness at the lives lost in police hands, a generation more civilised than ours will look back at the victims of extrajudicial killings today, their stories and images as proof of our disregard to this vice and judge us harshly for our failure to speak out against extrajudicial killings.
We all want to live in a safe society where we can raise our children in a safer world. While the Government has demonstrated a commitment to fighting insecurity, extrajudicial killings is not the way of achieving this. There is need to fix the system that allows those who break the law to go unpunished. Extrajudicial killing is a crime, it is murder and a punishable offence under the law. Ranking top of Africa’s list of countries prone to extrajudicial killings is not something to be proud of. Fair justice should always prevail, especially when lives are at stake.