On Thursday, June 25, Lazarus Tirop, a disabled cobbler and much-loved figure at Lessos Shopping Centre in Nandi County, attempted to intervene in an altercation between two officers and a boda boda rider whom the officers had confronted for not wearing a mask in public. Tirop was shot dead, his lifeless body left in a pool of blood.
An outraged public attempted to overrun the local police station – an unacceptable level of escalation – but only managed to burn OCS Peter Muguro’s house. In that drama, two people died. One was shot by police while the other allegedly fell to his death from a flag pole he had apparently climbed in an attempt to lower the flag.
On the same day, the Daily Nation published a data story tracking the trend of deaths associated with the police over the past five months.
The Nation database, which is available on our website, had at the time of publication 101 deaths and lots of details about the victims and the circumstances. Still, the reaction of the government to this report was shocking.
For the record, the Nation does not blame Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i for the culture of brutality in the police service.
Neither does it blame his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho or even Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai.
The systemic rot and culture of gun-happy cowboys in uniform stretches all the way back to the colonial days.
An increasingly intolerant security system, in a strong reaction, accused the Nation of misrepresentation, incitement and unfairness. Of note is the contention that the number is wrong and that a file picture was passed off as representing an event from the past five months.
In the interest of clarity, the Nation occupies the following positions: First, we do not condemn all officers; the Kenya Police Service is full of officers who serve with diligence and respect, and the Nation supports and commends them and will continue to stand with them.
Second, even if it is only 10 Kenyans who have been illegally executed by police, it is 10 Kenyans too many. The slaughter of the citizens of Kenya by police officers, most probably with the knowledge, protection and perhaps direction of more senior officers, is unacceptable and we condemn it in the strongest terms.
Third, the problems in the police will be solved by systemic, long-term interventions and not by bullying the media – through implied threats of prosecution, being dragged through the corridors of security organs, or a commercial blockade – into not reporting them.
The fact of the matter is that we are on the same side with many managers of the security services. We are fighting the criminals in uniform, but wholeheartedly support and will always support our police.
Dr Matiang’i, Dr Kibicho and Mr Mutyambai cannot be everywhere in this country; they must respect and allow the media to blow the whistle on wrongdoing without taking offence.
And, fourth, all the cases of police-linked deaths in our report have been captured either in an Occurrence Book at a police station or with a human rights organisation, and our database, which is updated regularly, captures the weapon used and the status of investigations.
It is, therefore, safe to say that the number of deaths the Nation attributes to police violence is based on documented incidents and facts, which show a 40 per cent rise in such incidents in the past five months compared to the same period last year.
We publish that information because that is what is expected of us and we shall continue to do so in a language and manner that is neither inciteful nor likely to cause disaffection towards security agencies.
But, even as we do so, we acknowledge that the photograph we published on the front page to illustrate the story, which depicted a policeman in a confrontation with a man, was a file picture and should have been labelled as such.
As we explained in a clarification yesterday, we also, in the spirit of editorial openness and factuality, admit this error of omission on our part and have corrected the impression that it depicted events within the past five months.
Policing, like parenting, is a communal affair. Like parenting, too, it should be open to criticism. The majority of officers in the National Police Service go about their duties with a sense of gallantry and patriotism, but a small minority continues to dent the image of the force.
They should be routinely called out.