Like many other African countries, Kenya has imposed sweeping restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The curfew, which requires people to stay in their homes from dusk to dawn, is the most stringent limitation and has led to a wave of police violence.
Over the weekend, police injured dozens in a crackdown in the coastal city of Mombasa. On Saturday morning, a motorcycle taxi driver died of injuries that his family says he sustained from being beaten by a policeman after he dropped off a pregnant woman at a hospital after curfew. (The police did not respond to requests for comment on the incident.)
“Yassin is short, so he climbed on a chair, held the rail on the balcony and started to look,” said his mother, Khadija Abdullahi Hussein. “I told the kids, ‘Don’t worry about the police, we are in the house. There is nothing wrong that we are doing.’ But one officer kept his flashlight pointed at us.”
Then, the flurry of gunfire.
Yassin’s father, Hussein Moyo Motte, heard the crackle while he watched television in a nearby house. His daughter’s name lit up on his cellphone. She said Yassin had been shot.
“I thought, how can that be if he was at home? How can that be if our house is not made of iron sheets?” said Motte.
Yassin’s mother couldn’t believe it either.
“Yassin told me that he had been hit, and I told him to stop his jokes because he likes to joke a lot,” she recalled as she wept at his burial Tuesday afternoon. “He said, ‘Mama, I am not lying, I have been shot. I swear I have been shot.’ ”
On Tuesday, police spokesman Charles Owino declined to comment on the incident, but the police inspector general said he was launching an investigation. A senior police official, Philip Ndolo, told Kenya’s Citizen TV that “the boy was accidentally hit by a ricochet as police were trying to disperse a gang who had defied the curfew directive.”
A social worker in Kiamaiko, the neighborhood where Yassin’s family lives, said she had been in touch with the neighborhood’s supervising officer, Juliana Wanyama, who was apologetic.
“The question the community is asking, however, is why are you sending the police to come to the community with live bullets?” said Faith Mumbe Kasina of the Kiamaiko Social Justice Center.
Kenya has 59 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Tuesday. In a report on the curfew crackdowns Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the use of force could jeopardize efforts to slow the virus’s spread.
“It’s not likely we will see accountability for these excessive enforcement actions. Kenyan police have a history of rights abuses, including during law enforcement operations, and the officers involved are rarely investigated or held to account,” the report said.
Yassin was the third of seven siblings. He grew up in a neighborhood where many children live on the street, and gangs recruit them when they are young. Yassin stayed away from all that, while still being a social kid who had plenty of friends.
“He was such a good child — he tried to know everybody. He even knew his friends’ parents, people that I did not know,” said his mother. “We would walk around, and he would be saying hi to other adults, and I would ask, ‘Who is that?’ He would say, ‘We go to school with their son.’ ”
His funeral at the Kariokor Muslim Cemetery was attended by his large extended family as well as dozens of young people from the neighborhood around the graveyard. A few policemen stood on the side, and the crowd had nothing nice to say about them.
The police are feared in neighborhoods such as Kiamaiko and Kariokor, where residents say they are better known for taking lives than saving them. Yassin’s mother said she would rather the coronavirus had killed her son than the police because she just couldn’t bear the injustice of what happened.
“Imagine knowing that someone is out there laughing with his wife and children, and yet he has killed your child,” she said. “I want him to know that he has killed my child and that I can never forgive him for that.”
As she watched her son’s body be carried to be washed, then wrapped and finally prayed over by her male relatives, she doubted whether the world around her — the police, the nurses at the hospital where Yassin died, the strangers gathered outside the cemetery — would understand her loss.
“They don’t care. It’s not their child,” she said. “He was just any other stranger.”