A while back, I saw this Twitter thread by Sham on how we could come together and do something for the Kenya Police and specifically, the Parklands police station that had hosted him a couple of days earlier. The good-natured me was almost moved to joining that noble cause. Only that then, I was going through enough struggles of my own. I had just quit my previous job and was hunting for another.
Today, I am actually glad that I did not get the time to help Sham and everyone else in that cause because I would be regretting it right now.
Some time back, for no reason at all, I was arrested, a couple of blocks from where I stay and I ended up being locked up in the worst place I have ever been in since I left Maseno School because, terrible as they might be, the dingy cells at Parklands police station are no match to the dreaded Mogadishu quarters in Archbishop Olang’s house.
I had had an eventful day at work. I can’t remember exactly what I was working on that day but I just remember it being a good day. For heaven’s sake I had worn my favourite pair of shoes to work and made sure to pair them with a matching pair of pants, shirt and even belt, the second time in as many days that I was actually doing so. Those who know me will tell you that that is as rare as Venus blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the Earth.
However, as fate would have it, no amount of good grooming was going to prevent whatever lay ahead of me from happening. Just as I made the final turn and was just a few gates from putting down my laptop and starting yet another episode of V. M. Varga’s rants in Fargo, someone I had never seen before stopped me.
Having just lost my previous work machine a few weeks earlier under mysterious circumstances, my initial instinct was that this was a thief. In fact, had he not thrown cuffs onto my hands over the engulfing next few seconds, I would’ve ended up in court the following day with a charge sheet that read something like “resisting arrest and assaulting a law enforcement officer”. I was going to kick him hard and run as fast as I could. I thought he was a thief.
There I was, with my laptop bag strapped on my back stopped in the middle of a busy road by a stranger. “Kijana unatoka wapi?” I can’t forget those words, uttered with a faint Somali accent, that reeked of utmost condescension. Up to that point, it hadn’t hit me that I had been stopped by a police officer. The man, probably in his early 30s, never made any attempt to identify himself. He did not have any police uniform or a badge. Nothing.
Being a few minutes to 8PM, I was, somehow, magically, expected to deduce that he’s a police officer. Yeah, because I am an all-knowing robot.
I hesitated to answer his question in full. Before I could finish saying “I am from work,” I had already been handcuffed to another riffraff they had picked earlier.
For the first time ever, what I was used to reading in books and seeing on television was happening to me.
All the while, no one communicated anything to me. No one asked for my identification documents or asked any questions. I was under arrest for God-knows-what. Wow. The officer who had arrested me, in fact, left us on the side of the road and went to harass other passers by. It was about 7.40PM on a cold Tuesday.
I remember telling the officer that I was just a few blocks from where I stay and his response was the kind of humour I am used to LOLing to on Twitter. “Tutakuonyesha mahali mzuri zaidi ya kulala.” The nerve!
None of the officers (he had a colleague or more accurately, an accomplice) would say another thing until the navy blue Parklands police station Toyota Land Cruiser would arrive half an hour later and whisk us (by that time there were five of us) away to a destination none of us had anticipated.
When we got to the Parklands police station is when the real intentions of our arrest were revealed. The mean-looking officer who hadn’t taken a second before putting cuffs on my hands asked me carelessly if I had any cash with me. Uuum, cash for what? I did not ask him that, of course because by that time I was already more mad than I’ll probably ever be this year and also because I dreaded being assaulted. I had just seen the same officer thoroughly beat a tipsy man he had rounded up. I told him I had no money and that I had already called for help so I was okay sitting tight until help arrived.
Since I did not have any money, that meant that I was useless to the police officer who had arrested me. I was quickly ordered to remove one shoe, surrender my valuables – my laptop bag containing, well, a laptop, its charger, my prized pair of aging plastic Sony headsets, several portable chargers, 4 smartphones, 3 external hard disk drives and some coins – and thrown into the nearby male cells.
Inside those cells is where I came face to face with the impunity with which the police operate. There were scores of young men arrested earlier on under circumstances similar to mine who had no money to bribe their way out and no one to call to come and pay for their freedom. The entire place was terrible. The pungent smell as a result of the urine that seemed to be in just about every inch of that cell’s floor is one that won’t be leaving me any time soon. As is the obscene graffiti on those cell walls.
For the next 2 or so hours, the graffiti on those walls would be my hallowed Bible app as I read inspirational messages, Bible verses, song lyrics, some of the illest pickup lines I have ever come across, constitutional clauses and insults. There were many of the latter. Too bad I never got to see even a single Tyrion Lannister or any Game of Thrones-related quote for that matter.
Was I the first Westeros and Essos fan to spend time behind those filthy white-turned-cream walls?
“Chenze!” It was the officer on night duty at the front desk calling my name. Help had finally arrived.
Help came a few minutes after 10PM.
I looked at the wall that I had spent the last two hours of my life leaning on since I just couldn’t bring myself to sit on that damn floor to stare, for one last time, at the sight of a drawing of a beautiful woman, never mind that it appeared that the artist had either run out of ink before completing her forehead or been knocked senseless by one of the cell bullies or, like in my case at that moment, seen freedom.
I was made to clean the Parklands police station reception area, which is no better than the kibanda where I buy groceries in Ngara, before being let go.
The beauty of working with the amazing people that I work with is that the police can’t get away with the sort of impunity they are used to getting away with without an explanation. I had notified my colleagues of my arrest and the boss had taken charge of the situation, calling to ask why I was being held and what charges were being brought against me. Idling/loitering, he was told. Yes, it is illegal to get home from work in this Nairobi of theirs, unless, of course, you are willing to part with anything upwards of Kshs 2,000 to secure the freedom that the constitution of Kenya gives you for free.
I was let go without paying even a shilling, something that must’ve infuriated the officer who had arrested me who was nowhere in sight at that time when he found out later. He’d probably already calculated my “dues” to him as part of his nyama choma budget for the following day together with his colleagues. What I was supposed to pay for, again?
This is not the first time I am hearing of this. This happens daily in Nairobi and in other parts of the country.
Previously, when investigative series like the recently-concluded Inspector Fisi series on KTN would show police officers in a bad light, I would sympathize with them and the tough conditions they operate in and probably blame their actions on the system and everything else but them. Not anymore. What have 19-year-old Architecture students going to study at their college in the evening got to do with your low salary? What has an innocent Kenyan just from the supermarket at 7PM got to do with your frustrations at work?
That night, I did not get to watch Mr Stussy sink further into the hole that Mr Varga had dug for him but I did get to learn one valuable life lesson, fuck the police!