Saturday, April 03, 2021

Outliers won't save us

As I understand it, two men went into a store in Minneapolis to do a bit of shopping. One of the men handed over a twenty-dollar bill as payment and the two men left and entered their parked car. The store manager determined that the twenty-dollar bill was a counterfeit bill and sent two of his assistants to ask the shopper who had paid to come back to the store. The shopper refused to do so. The store owner then called the police. From here, things escalate. In less than twenty minutes after the police arrived on the scene, the shopper was dead.

In my typically tone-def way, I tweeted that this was one more reason to go cashless. I was called out for it because it is not the counterfeit money that led to the man's death. One of the policemen who showed up on the scene was Caucasian. The man who was killed was Black. Everything we know - at least, everything we know from news media - about the United States is that encounters between white police and Black men are fraught with overwhelming risk for the Black suspects.

Indeed, it has become so commonplace that whenever a Black man suspects that police have been called to deal with something that he is accused of having done, he is faced with two choices: flight or total surrender. Neither guarantees that he shall walk away from the encounter alive.

The racialist policing in the United States is reflected in Kenya's policing. Indeed, racialism pervades a great deal of officialdom's interaction with "ordinary" Kenyans. Kenyans are increasingly being policed the way minority communities are policed in the United States. In my opinion, an armed police force is not designed for "community" policing; it is designed to control and suppress the policed population. It is designed to suspect the policed population of being a dangerous risk that must be met with force at the first instance.

If we think back to the beginning of the Government's response to the pandemic at the end of March of 2020, our most vivid memories are he immediate aftermath of the declaration of the 7 pm to 5 am curfew. There were scenes at the Likoni Ferry Crossing of hundreds of commuters lying on their stomachs as some of them are viciously assaulted by the police ostensibly for missing the curfew. There were the videos of delivery drivers being assaulted by gangs of police for violating the curfew even though, the Curfew Order expressly stated that they were exempt. There was the tragic story of a teenager shot dead by a policeman who recklessly fired his gun while accosting another group of curfew offenders. There was the shameful burial at night overseen by the police in order that was ostensibly enforcing Covid-19 protocols on burials and similar disposals of the remains of the deceased.

Many of us have been victims of police criminality, especially if we appear not to be members of the one-percent. We have been assaulted and robbed by police. We have been extorted and murdered. Indeed, one seemingly never-ending criminal trial involves a gang of police that abducted a complainant, his lawyer and their driver, murdered the there of them, and dumped their remains in a river. There are those who will defend the institution of the police on the grounds that not all police are bad; only a few rogue elements are responsible for the criminality that seems to pervade the ranks of the disciplined forces. Many of us think that the problem is not a few rogue elements but the entire institution needs to be remade to reflect the [relatively] new constitutional order.

There are many individual police that serve their communities, helping to prevent crime and protect lives and property. They assist communities to address security challenges and investigate serious crimes. They play an invaluable role in dispute resolution and conflict de-escalation. But they are not the norm. They are outliers. It is why they are celebrated whenever their stories are highlighted in the news media. We no longer need a conversation on the inherent criminality of the police; the facts are plain to see. What we need is to tear down the entire structure of the police and build it from scratch, if at all. Anything less is a betrayal of the Bill of Rights and an admission that we have learnt nothing from the policing troubles of the United States.

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