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Media should not normalize police brutality, it’s a crime

Police violence is “normal” in Kenya. The beating up of Mlango Kubwa MCA (Nairobi) Patricia Mutheu that was captured on camera on July 28 is not “the latest incident”, as a good reporter would write. We are certain hundreds of people have been brutalized around Kenya since then.

Police are, by definition, law enforcement officers. They work in the justice system. Their mandate is founded on the law. If they or the public they are meant to serve seem to forget this cardinal point, it is the responsibility of everyone to remind them, especially the media, which is the watchdog of society.

The Standard on July 28 carried two stories that suggested sometimes the media does not fully grasp its public role of promoting the rule of law. The first story was headlined, “Nights of terror put police on the spot” (p.4).

The report said residents of Kacholwo location in Elgeyo Marakwet were living in fear following rising police brutality. At least seven people had suffered injuries inflicted by police officers during night raids.

“In the past two weeks, officers from Kocholwo police post in collaboration with assistant chiefs from Molol and Kapkosom sub-locations have been unleashing untold suffering on residents,” The Standard reported.

The story carried the accounts of some victims. Elgeyo Marakwet county commissioner Ahmed Omar said the matter was under investigation. Of course.

The second story had the headline, “We want Rashid back: Residents say moved officer tamed crime.”

Now, numerous reports by residents, human rights groups and the media have accused Rashid of extrajudicial killings in Mathare and Eastleigh. He is believed to have been transferred following the outcry, but no one knows this for sure.

The campaign group Missing Voices that fights to end extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Kenya describes Rashid as a “killer cop”.

“Many are his victims, while others remember him as the officer who was caught on camera shooting at two unarmed men in Eastleigh in 2017,” the group says.

But The Standard praised the officer. “Residents who spoke to The Standard yesterday said crimes such as hit-and-run are slowly returning to the area after reports the crime buster, Sergeant Ahmed Rashid, would be transferred,” the paper said.

“Rashid is loved and hated in equal measure in the two areas in connection with the various security operations he has led over the years. He is famed for containing crime.”

The ends justify the means in this misleading media framing of the war on crime.

It wasn’t the first time a media house was praising Rashid, an officer repeatedly accused of torture and summary execution of suspects in the slums of Eastleigh.

On July 9, the People Daily reported that “Pangani’s most-feared crime buster” had been transferred. “But Rashid’s colleagues describe him as a ruthless officer, who operates above the law unlike the rest of them,” PD reported.

An officer whose activities are clearly criminal is described in media reports as a “crime buster”.

A pull-quote in The Standard story had the comment of a businessman saying: “Robberies have increased after reports he had been transferred. We are happy with his work and we are asking the government to bring him back.” Highlighting this quote is troubling.

The media champions the rule of law as the bedrock of a just society. Mistaken businessmen who think killing suspects is the best way to combat crime, who do not believe in the principle of presumption of innocence, who are ignorant of the nexus between poverty and violent crime, must not be given news platforms to mislead others. That amounts to irresponsible journalism.

Suspected criminals are not killed. They are arrested and charged. If found guilty, they are punished and offered a chance to reform. Many have become useful members of society after a life of crime. Mui huwa mwema.

That is what responsible journalism promotes, not cheering on brutal cops.

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