Mourning families decry brutal police response to protests - Daily Nation

Mourning families decry brutal police response to protests


Police say they are right to defend themselves but these explanations are little consolation to the bereaved

As we enter the compound of Mrs Consolata Awino Odenda in Lwala Koudia village, Siaya County, we are received by a visibly tired lady, with fresh soil on the soles of her feet.

It is planting season and she’s come from the farm. After her 17-year-old daughter Jackline ushers us into the house, Ms Awino offers us a cup of water before asking us what has brought us into her compound.

She tells Nation Newsplex she could not believe the news that her son, Churchill Odhiambo, the family’s sole breadwinner, had died during a demonstration on May 23, 2016.

Churchill had just visited them from Nairobi, arriving the previous day, a Sunday morning. She had prepared him chicken for supper as a way of welcoming him home and thanking God for protecting him through the long distance from Nairobi to Siaya.

He was a very humble, hardworking young man who would frequently visit them to check how they were coping, she said.

Mrs Odenda added that the death of Churchill has stolen their family’s sole breadwinner especially after the death of her older three children and her husband in 1995. Jackline, a Form Three student at Mulaha Secondary School will be forced to drop out of school after his death. “He’s the one who was paying the fees. He was the sole provider.”

He was a very humble boy. He’s a case of mistaken identity. His absence has left a huge gap in my life.

Churchill’s younger brother, who had also dropped out of school due to lack of fees, was now a boda boda operator in Siaya town. It was he that Churchill had gone to Siaya town to look for when he was shot in demonstrations against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

“He was a very humble boy. He’s a case of mistaken identity. His absence has left a huge gap in my life,” she said.

On that same day, police shot Austine Juma, 28, in Siaya. His post-mortem tests reveal he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

HUMBLE INDIVIDUAL

Nearly two and a half months later, on August 4, 2016, officers shot three youths dead and injured scores of others in Bondo town. The three died when the police used live bullets while trying to quell angry youths who had stormed Bondo Police Station to demand the release of two women whom, they believed, had stolen a child.

Police in Siaya and Kisumu counties have shot at least nine demonstrators and bystanders and wounded scores in the first eight months of this year, according to Deadly Force, a database on police killings in Kenya by Newsplex.

Mrs Caroline Atieno Oboch, a mother of nine who runs a hotel in Bondo town, lost her 22-year-old son, Michael Owino, 22, on August 4. She said they were together when the chaos started. Owino left in the evening only for her to receive a message that he had died.

“I was shocked that my son was shot in the demonstrations despite spending the whole day in the hotel. He was a humble individual,” said Mrs Oboch.

Mr Robert Okoth, 35, and Joseph Odiango, 20, were also killed in Bondo by armed police who claimed that they were overwhelmed after the youths stormed the station and stoned them.

Mr Odiango's mother appealed to the national government to compensate her for the death of her son because she has been forced to repay a loan that she had taken to buy welding equipment for him.

Leaders in the area have condemned police brutality saying that an inquiry is needed to determine whether the objectives of national security are being met.

“It appears the police have not been trained well on dealing with demonstrations and protests as they still view those tools and rights of the exercise of freedom of expression as illegal until proven otherwise,” said Mr James Orengo, the Senator for Siaya County, where five people were killed.

SHOT IN THE CHEST

Families, who call the killings unwarranted, are seeking answers from government, which says the police were right to defend themselves. But to the bereaved, and to survivors, these explanations are little consolation.

In Kisumu, four people were killed and several injured, amongst them a four-year-old boy who was shot in the back while sleeping as police engaged protesters in running battles.

The families of the dead and injured have appeared before commissioners of the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), demanding to know why police used live bullets on their kin.

They have accused the authority of failing to reprimand the police officers behind the deadly shooting.

Mrs Seline Atieno Juma, mother of one of deceased said they were not compensated for the loss of her son despite assurances of financial and legal support from the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, IPOA and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, to determine the cause of their deaths.

“We were assured of maximum support from these human rights bodies but  four months down the line we have not received any assistance or information from them. This is very sad,” lamented Mrs Juma.

Mrs Juma said that her son did not deserve to die the way he did. The post-mortem report indicated he was shot in the chest, an indication that the police may have aimed at him.

Police bosses, however, deny that the killings were due to misuse of ammunition adding that they do not owe the families an apology, more so with regard to what happened at Bondo Police Station.

“If what happened to Bondo Police Station is anything to go by, what did you expect us, the police to do?” asked Mr Titus Yoma, the Kisumu County police commander.

He said the police are allowed to use live bullets in certain instances and the storming of Bondo Police Station was one of them. “When rowdy youths storm a station and start throwing stones at police, you expect police to sit and chat with them?” he asked.

Regional Administration Police Commander, Christopher Mutali said raiding the police station and involving police in battles was not acceptable. They were making Siaya County a hotbed of violence, he said.

STRAY BULLET

“Siaya residents want to make police work very difficult. Whatever they are doing is not acceptable in the law and when the police use live bullets it’s a way of protecting themselves and not aimed at killing. This was done after we had exhausted our tear gas and rubber bullets,” Mr Kaloki said.

Mr Yoma said the public should desist from storming police stations and expect to be treated with respect. “We are there to protect them and not to kill them but they make us do that because we are also protecting ourselves,” he said.

In Homa Bay, Ms Dorothy Anyango, a 30-year-old businesswoman, sustained serious bullet wounds on her right arm in her house at Shauri Yako slum during demonstrations against the IEBC.

She was in her house, cooking for her family, when she was hit by a stray bullet in July this year.

The mother of two, who depended on manual jobs to educate and feed her two children, is now at the mercy of well-wishers to provide for them and settle her hospital bill, which has accumulated to Sh330,000. Her arm is paralysed.

She was the breadwinner of the family, but all her children have dropped out of school and moved to a neighbour’s home.  Mr Jacob Adhiambo Mangire, her father, said the bullet had changed her daughter’s life and she cannot fend for her family.

“How I wish that she was shot while taking part in the demonstrations. That would be understandable but my daughter is dying because of police ruthlessness,” he said.

Mr Richard Ooko had his leg amputated after he was shot by police at his garage in Homa Bay. He said he was attending to a client’s car when he was hit by a bullet. “What actually amuses me is that the police were shooting at anything, even roofs, they were out to kill,” he said.

SHOT WITHOUT A REASON

He is appealing to well-wishers to help him begin a new life.

According to Senator Orengo, this is evidence of a larger trend. “There is a fundamental problem with police forces. They have so much power and leeway that they often do what they want, knowing they can get away with it,” he said.

“It is easier for them to escape accountability because even holding peaceful protests often attracts police violence, despite our constitutional right to assemble under Article 37,” he added.

Mr Opiyo Wandayi, Ugunja MP said Kenyans have suffered in the hands of police officers being shot without a reason. “Why would they even shoot demonstrators instead of using teargas?” said Mr Wandayi.

On Thursday August 18, 2016 investigations by IPOA revealed brutality meted out on suspects by rogue police officers, especially during arrest.

In one of the cases highlighted in a report released recently, a matatu driver was arrested and handcuffed before his genitals were crushed by an officer based at Kasarani Traffic Base.

The assault not only rendered the driver handicapped and unable to engage in gainful employment but also led to the surgical removal of his scrotum.

This is one of the 160 cases that have been investigated and recommendations made. At least 30 police officers have been charged with various offences in the last four years, including murder and assault.