Helping put together that Daily Nation package last week on the Lang’ata Road police execution of suspected criminals, I anticipated howls of outrage once those photographs were shown to the world.
Come publication, however, and instead of universal revulsion, outrage and condemnation, the instant reactions posted on Nation Online was majority support for a job well-done in terminating dangerous criminals.
Taken aback by that twist, I posted the question on my Facebook page, and I was hit with a similar deluge. Friends I assumed shared my values were full of praise for the ‘‘heroic’’ police officers who made sure there were three criminals fewer on our streets.
Do some of us live in a fantasy, make-believe world? The answer is yes. We may pontificate piously about the rule of law, innocent until proven guilty, and so on. But out there in the real world are very angry Kenyans who have borne the full brunt of heartless, violent criminals.
Armed and dangerous outlaws run the streets unchecked. They terrorise Kenyans in their homes and workplaces; they rape, rob and kill; carjackings are the order of the day.
Many respondents recalled traumatic moments at the hands of criminals that affected them personally, or their family, relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
This may be as unscientific a poll as any, but a count on Online responses to the Nation articles, letters to the editor, Facebook and other Internet discussion groups, radio call-in shows, and so on, indicates broad support for the police in this case, fortified by belief that the three men fully deserved the brutal end.
The responses came with particular opprobrium for human rights activists and others so keen to condemn the police while ignoring the brutal reality of the terror daily visited on the innocent by brutal thugs.
So do Kenyans generally advocate that the police should be unleashed to go on killing sprees as judge, jury, executioner?
No, for an analysis of the reactions indicate opinions shaped by sheer frustration at the lack of an effective law and order system.
Many laid blame at the feet of the State law office and Judiciary they said were so inept, corrupt and compromised, that even dangerous criminals caught in the act were bound to be back in the streets shortly.
It was almost a universal concurrence that human rights lobbyists side with dangerous criminals rather than with the police who work their thankless jobs in dangerous circumstances.
A good number of correspondents also added a rider: They do not support executions, but in cases where victims are confirmed criminals – that the Lang’ata Road three were reportedly armed and had served jail-terms for robbery was cited – then instant justice was much more preferable to ineffective due process.
It’s a jungle out there, seems to be the opinion; and in a state of war between cops and robbers, then impediments such as concern for human rights and due process must be set aside so that the good guys can prevail over the bad.
Problem is that in many instances, as some pointed out, it is difficult to distinguish between the good and the bad guys.
Many who supported the shoot-on-sight policy also slated the police for conducting shoddy investigations and prosecutions that ensured arrested criminals were quickly back on the streets.
Maybe such responses emboldened Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere’s launch on Monday of a PR offensive in support of his troops and promises that there would be no slowing down in the war against dangerous criminals.
That may be what Kenyans want to hear, but if ever suspected of a crime, I’d much rather be arrested and paraded before a judge instead of being despatched with extreme prejudice.
I don’t want to be a victim of mistaken identity, shot down with no opportunity to explain myself. I don’t want to be condemned to death simply because I have a business or love rivalry with a police officer.
So Mr Commissioner, by all means sustain the war against crime. On that, you have my full support. But in the process you must not employ criminal methods, for unlike your adversaries, you must stand on a higher and righteous pedestal.