Police Brutality in Kenya: Minoo Kyaa’s Experience
Part two of Police Brutality series in Kenya. We feature Minoo Kyaa. A member of Mukuru Community Justice Centre and the coordinator of Reggae for Social Justice. She is also a member of the Women in Social Justice Centres movement. Minoo is a writer and a poet. Her art documents struggle and resistance.
“I was born and raised in Mukuru slums and witnessed all sorts of police brutality and criminalization of young people by the state. It wasn’t just the criminalization of youths but the criminalization of poverty too. I have interacted with youths that come from rich backgrounds, and they cannot relate to a thing when we talk about how youths have been criminalized, and that proves to me that poverty is criminalized. Yet, the capitalists and the state that criminalizes is the same one that pushes us to poverty, so that when we beg them for food, they exploit our labor and give us peanuts in return.
While growing up in Mukuru Kwa Njenga, I decided to grow dreadlocks, but had a lot of fear in me. I had seen how my friends got arrested for simply having dreadlocks: they were framed for possessing bhang (marijuana) or wrongfully accused of being criminals. The negative profiling by police was so bad that even the community started to believe that if you have dreadlocks you were using drugs or were a dangerous criminal. I witnessed my friend Kaparo get his dreadlocks shaved off by police at the police station using a piece of iron sheet.
He had been brought there by police informants for fighting with the son of a police informant. My cousin is also a victim of this type of police brutality. He and seven of his friends were found with bhang and five of them, including my cousin, had their heads shaved using a blunt razor that was shared among all of them.
They were also framed for meeting to organize a robbery, and their parents had to pay a bribe for their innocent sons to be freed. Still in Mukuru, eight young men were shot in 2019 by the police while having a meeting about garbage collection. They were between 16 and 24 years old.
I attended Mukuru Kwa Njenga primary school, which was near my home. It had a very big field where young men loved to go to practice football. At night, however, the field would turn into a slaughter place. A young man I knew who used to sell bhang but stopped was shot there around 8 pm going to buy bhang from another peddler. To justify the inhumane action, the police framed him as a robber by placing many phone sim cards at the crime scene, and a fake gun—a bonoko.
Every night and sometimes during the day, I would hear a lot of gunshots coming from the field. I didn’t experience much police brutality as I am a woman, but I watched my male friends suffer every day. I even heard my dad thank God that he didn’t have a son because he didn’t how he would protect him from the criminalization that happens when you grow up in a slum.
It’s even dangerous to have an expensive gadget here as it puts your life in danger. You will be accused of stealing it and be brutally beaten. I know some of my friends who can’t dress well because they were once in crime, stayed in prison for years, and when they came out they reformed but the police will not give them peace: they are always harassing them, brutally beating them so that they can say where they “stole” their clothes from.
I survived in this ghetto watching the state making a living out of extorting us, turning our lives into a living hell. The state installs a lot of fear in us using violence and prisons. We even feel unsafe in a place we call home. I have innocent friends who rot behind bars for the crime of being poor and living in a slum. We didn’t choose this life.”
*Image: Mathare Social Justice Centre
*Minoo Kyaa’s story originally appeared in Africa is a country.