Kenya: Street Families Out on Cold Nights Also Endure Brutality From Police

Police in Mandera town (file photo).

Exactly 14 days ago, a group of street families was braving a cold night at the Muthurwa roundabout in Nairobi's central business district when police officers from the Kamukunji Police Station showed up to chase them away.

The engagement turned physical and one young family - a man, his wife and their six-month-old baby - bore the brunt of the police operation. The infant was clobbered to death.

The following morning, the families that were dispersed from Muthurwa slowly marched to Nation Centre as they protested against the killing.

The protest did not last long. A group of officers from Central Police Station dispersed the crowd, insisting that the matter was under Kamukunji.

In February last year, Kevin Otieno, 24, and his family found themselves in a similar situation.

Otieno and his wife were trying to survive a cold night in the streets of Nairobi when a police operation started.

The couple were with their two-month-old baby in an alley off Latema Road when a police officer started clobbering street families that were asleep.

Instinctively, Otieno dived on top of his infant and got his back whipped while trying to protect the infant.

When the officer heard the baby cry, he backed off and apologised, saying he did not know there was a baby there.

While Otieno has managed to rent a house in Majengo for Sh2,000 a month, he still spends several nights in Nairobi's streets pushing hand carts for a living because his wife delivered another baby.

But this is not an issue limited to street families. On Tuesday, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) revealed that the family of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo, a Standard Eight pupil killed by police in March, had been facing threats and intimidation.

Ipoa broke the news while opposing bail for police officer Duncan Ndiwa, who has been charged with shooting Yassin on the balcony of his family's house while enforcing a 7pm curfew.

After losing their son, the family is now being asked, and not politely, to keep quiet and let the matter slide.

Ipoa believes that the individuals threatening Yassin's family are proxies of Mr Ndiwa, and wanted the court to deny the officer bail.

Yassin was playing on the balcony when a bullet hit his stomach on the night of March 31.

Since Kenya started implementing measures to fight Covid-19 in March, police have killed at least 15 people and seriously injured another 31.

Ipoa earlier this month said that it had received 87 complaints of police brutality since March.

But the numbers could be higher, based on data collected by civil society groups.

Between January 1 and June 2, human rights group Missing Voices says it documented and verified 95 police killings.

And the National Police Service (NPS) has always had an answer to justify such killings, save for pointing an accusing finger at its own officers.

Reported justifications

Of the numbers captured by Missing Voices, NPS used anti-crime and anti-terror operations, enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, personal disputes and political demonstrations as justifications for the killing 79 individuals.

In the other 11 cases, there were no reasons given. At least 15 incidents saw the victims tortured to death.

Demas Kiprono, Amnesty International's safety and dignity manager, says that the fight against police brutality is far from being won, but believes that prosecution has been a relatively successful tool in the past few years.

The advocate and human rights defender is representing four families of police brutality victims. Three of the cases are in court, while one is an inquest.

"We are far behind (in the fight against police brutality) because the cases of police brutality continue to rise," he said.

Ipoa has recommended the prosecution of police officers in just three of 15 cases of police killings this year.

"We have not turned a corner. In the last three years, we have seen positive change in prosecution and conviction of police officers accused of brutality. But the rate of prosecution is far behind that of cases of brutality," Mr Kiprono said.

IPOA has recommended prosecution of police officers in just three out of 15 cases of police killings this year.

Three of the cases investigated by IPOA and civil society groups involved mentally challenged individuals.

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