A month ago, after a trial that lasted six years, the High Court of Kenya sentenced four police officers to death and long prison terms for the brutal torture and killing of human rights lawyer Willy Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda, and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri. In June 2017, during a memorial service held at the Consolata Shrine to mark one year since their disappearance and murder, Njonjo Mue who was then serving as the Chair of the Governing Council of the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists delivered a speech in which he also shone the spotlight on the scourge of extra-judicial killings of poor young Kenyan men by the police which has plagued Kenya for so long.
I am honoured to stand before you and make these brief remarks as we mark one year since the tragic murder of Willy Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Mururi. I do so in three different capacities.
First, I speak to you on behalf of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-K) whose Council I am privileged to chair. Last December, during the International Human Rights Day, the 600 members of ICJ-K elected Willy Kimani posthumously as the Jurist of the Year for his immense contribution to justice, human rights and the rule of law.
Today I come here on behalf of the members, Council and staff of ICJ-K to join friends and family in honouring the memory and celebrating the legacy of Willy, Josephat and Joseph, three soldiers for justice who chose bravery over safety, who marched in front when comfort was in the midst of the ranks, who defied the logic of power that pretends that might makes right, and who stood up for justice and paid the ultimate price.
Second, I speak to you as an ordinary Kenyan addressing other ordinary Kenyans and friends of Kenya. The brutal murder of Willy, Josephat and Joseph, while tragic, was not unique. It is a just the tip of a very big iceberg. Its importance lay in calling national and international attention to the daily reality that confronts young men in the slums and informal settlements who are shot in cold blood and with impunity in a reign of terror declared by the police.
Over the last five years, thousands of young men have been shot dead by the police without the benefit of due process by simply being declared to be criminals. But their biggest crime appears to be that they are all poor.
I am here to join in the chorus of voices that are rising all over our country to condemn the systematic murder by the police of our fellow citizens. We are all here to demonstrate that we care about these young people and the families that they leave behind.
The 16th Century English poet and clergyman John Donne once wrote in a poem, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. So, never send to know for whom the death tolls. It tolls for thee.”
In like manner, any Kenyan’s death diminishes you and me. There have been many bells tolling to announce the funerals of the young men murdered by the police in cold blood. But we shall no longer send to know for whom the bell tolls in Mathare, Korogocho and Dandora, for we know that it tolls also for us in Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Karen.
Any Kenyan’s death at the hands of the police not only diminishes each one of us, it also implicates you and me, for it is carried out in our name and using weapons paid for by our taxes. And so we are here to join the chorus of rising voices to take a stand and declare “Not in our name! Not any more!” We are here to demand that the police do their work according to the law without abusing human rights in our name.
Third, I speak to you as a Christian, a member of the Church of Christ in Kenya. And in that capacity, I stand here to repent to God and to the families of the victims of these police killings for the Church’s inaction in the face of this moral crisis of our time. Martin Luther King Jr. once proclaimed that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
What could matter more than the plight of a widow, already victimised by the violence of poverty and life in the slums, losing her only son in a hail of police bullets?
What could matter more than the tragic story of a young father being cruelly taken away from his little children and young widow thereby condemning them to a life of destitution?
What could matter more than the story of a deaf teenager caught rummaging at the Dandora dumpsite for something to sell on 20th April 2017? Being deaf, he could not hear when the police called out to him and they shot him dead and declared that he was a criminal.
What could matter more than the story of Ibrahim Mohammed and his cousin Lemin Abdalla, both 14-year-old teenagers, who left their homes to play football and never returned to their mothers?
What could matter more than the fact that a young man caught with a gun in Karen is accorded the benefit of a full trial, while a young man found eating chips in Mathare is shot dead by the police in unclear circumstances.
And what could matter more that the fact that the citizenry and church members have become so desensitized that they have become cheerleaders to this trigger-happy police force that has appointed itself the judge, jury and executioner, killing our young people merely because, according to the police, “they deserve to die.”
And yet, in response to this moral crisis of our time, the Church has largely remained eloquent in its silence, conspicuous in its absence and distinguished in its indifference.
Jesus paid the ultimate price for our salvation, which was completed at the cross of Calvary when he declared with his dying breath that it was finished. But he left us behind to do the work of justice. To go to the places where the fabric of shalom has been raptured and, there, to be his agents in the ministry of healing. We therefore cannot afford to remain silent and look the other way when God’s children are being exterminated like cockroaches.
The Church must not only weep with those who weep and bury the victims in private, it must take a stand and speak out in public against this injustice of extra-judicial killings. It must also develop and teach an empowering theology of humane policing that requires our police service to secure our country without abusing our rights.
As individual Christians, in addition to raising our voices in condemnation of this injustice, we must find the moral courage to join the sweat of our brow to the tears of the bereaved and the blood of the slain in the hope that they will together become the seeds of a new Kenya where justice will truly be our shield and defender.
Only then can we assure ourselves and future generations that Willy Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri did not die in vain.
I thank you.
Consolata Shrine, Nairobi.
23 June 2017.