I’ve visited Nairobi several times since June and each visit I’ve been startled by the large number of killings publicly confirmed by the police. Some days the police admit to killing as many as five to ten people — all likely robbers and violent criminals, according to the cops.
Whenever I complain about the amount of killings by police, Kenyans tell me that the police actions are welcome — and that there are simply too many crimes in Nairobi and too many armed criminals.
The police also have taken to killing suspects rather than arresting them — partly as a form of protest against a judicial system that moves too slowly against criminals and too often offers them leniency. Prosecutors, meanwhile, routinely fall down on the job, failing to document their cases sufficiently.
The judicial failures, while real, are used as an excuse for police to kill people with impunity. The practice of police killings legitimizes violence in Kenya, by ordinary criminals and political actors alike as well as by the state itself.
That so many of the people killed by police are alleged to be carrying weapons has made me wonder whether the police routinely plant guns on those they kill in order to protect themselves from complaints and obtain at least a flimsy justication for their deadly actions.
My worst suspicions about extra-judicial killings by police have been confirmed by a United Nations investigator. Philip Alston has found that senior police officials are ordering killings by their officers. Alston told the BBC: “Kenyan police are a law unto themselves. They kill often, with impunity.”
Alston provided evidence showing that police officers are given a “bonus” of $65 for every “suspect” they kill. He called on Kenya’s government to fire its police chief.