Police to Blame for Death of Girl after 2017 Elections in Kenya

A recent Kenyan investigation ruled that an officer is to blame for the death of 9-year-old Stephanie Moraa, who was killed during 2017 post-election violence. Moraa died after being hit in the chest by a stray bullet after police fired shots to disperse protestors the day after election results were announced. Months later, the director of prosecutions ordered an inquest into Moraa’s death after the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) sent a report outlining the findings of their investigation into Moraa’s death. IPOA’s report claims that if the police wanted to find the officer responsible for firing the bullet that killed Moraa, they could do so in a day or less. This assertion sheds light on the willingness of Kenyan police officers to protect each other, even when an officer is responsible for violence against citizens. Furthermore, the statement highlights the Kenyan government’s inadequate efforts to prosecute officers. According to Reuters, Kenyan police frequently face accusations of brutality and extrajudicial killings from civilians and human rights groups, but officers are rarely charged and almost never convicted.

The Chief magistrate Francis Andayi of the Magistrates Court at Nairobi wrote in the IPOA report that Moraa’s death was caused by a “deliberate shooting by a police officer whose identity has been frustrated by police officers covering for one another under the blue code of silence.” IPOA said the police did not provide information on details that could help identify who fired the fatal shot, such as the officers’ placement. Despite the unwillingness of police to report misconduct, eleven witnesses testified in IPOA’s investigation including Moraa’s parents and witnesses in nearby apartments.

The report noted that Moraa’s death, and the inability to apprehend the officer who killed her, reflects a commonplace in Kenyan police-civilian relations, especially during election seasons. But police violence towards civilians is not just seen in Kenya. In the past year, United States police officers killed citizen after citizen, from George Floyd to Sean Monterrosa, resulting in public outcry and a wave of protests. In the UK, vigils and demonstrations have erupted in response to the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving British police officer. In a small town in Myanmar, police officers recently shot into a cluster of unarmed civilians, resulting in at least eight deaths and 20 or more injuries, according to the New York Times.

There are many steps administrations can take to reduce police brutality. The first step is prevention. An example of a preventative program is Project Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE), which is used in the United States. The program teaches officers that if they are loyal to their peers, they should stop their fellow officers from engaging in wrongful behavior. In preventing the misconduct, officers stop their peers from being involved in dangerous situations or suffering legal consequences because of irresponsible behavior.

The second step in combatting police brutality is establishing strict, consistent consequences for police misconduct. This includes governments launching thorough investigations and imposing strict penalties for officers who withhold information regarding a peer’s behavior.

In short, it is the responsibility of police officers to protect their communities. To ensure that officers do not misuse their power as guardians of the community, governments must teach police units that there are consequences for unjust behavior and those that try to protect the perpetrators of such behavior.