At the morgue, the bullet was still lodged in Douglas Kalasinga’s head. His family said they couldn’t afford an autopsy. At least 35 civilians have been shot dead by police in Kenya this month during protests over new taxes and the rising cost of living, and Kalasinga’s loved ones believe he’s one of them.
“It is as if the police wanted to kill him because they aimed straight at his head,” his uncle, David Wangila, told The Associated Press on Friday.
An interior ministry spokesperson referred requests for comment to the police, who didn’t respond.
Wangila said the 27-year-old was struck on Thursday while at work, pushing a handcart of water cans instead of taking part in the national demonstrations called by the political opposition.
As his family viewed his body, Kenyan human rights groups raised a chorus of outrage.
Data shared with the AP by a police watchdog, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit, showed 35 people were killed by police across the country in such demonstrations this month. All but one, who suffocated from tear gas, were shot dead. Most were young men.
“All the fatal shootings happened in slums,” the watchdog said.
It was not clear how much money Kalasinga made per day as he carted water through one such neighborhood in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Friends said he was “living hand to mouth” with his few belongings of buckets, clothes and shoes strewn across his one-roomed house made of corrugated iron sheets.
He was the oldest child in his family and never studied past primary school because of the lack of money to pay school fees. He came to Nairobi as a teenager in search of menial jobs. He was one of millions of people that President William Ruto, elected last year, described as fellow hustlers as he appealed to those of humble background and vowed to lower the cost of living.
Many Kenyans now accuse the president of making life unbearable with new taxes on fuel and other essentials, while food prices rise.
Ruto on Thursday hailed the police for a “good job” done in maintaining peace amid the protests.
A day later, as criticism rose, the president cautioned police against extrajudicial killings but warned that no public anarchy would be allowed. His administration has accused the opposition for any chaos and charged more than 300 people this week alone with crimes that include looting, destroying property and assaulting police.
Human rights organizations expressed concern over the police killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions reported in the demonstrations this month and urged the policing oversight body to investigate and prosecute the officers found guilty.
“We are witnessing a disturbing pattern of police operation that exposes the country to civil strife and informal repression,” a joint statement by more than 20 groups said Friday, adding that “President Ruto had promised to end the era of police killer squads.”
A separate statement by religious leaders strongly condemned the “excessive force and use of live bullets by police when containing the chaos.”
It is a longstanding problem in Kenya. For decades, police officers have been accused of extrajudicial killings during protests or with the aim of silencing critics. This week, police told the AP they had been ordered not to report deaths during the crackdown.
One of the latest victims, Kalasinga, was described by loved ones as “nonconfrontational, hardworking” and providing for his parents back home in western Kenya.
Now his family wants justice.
“We want action to be taken against the police officer who was shooting randomly. … He was a calm young man, an artist, a water vendor who was fending for himself and not a thief,” his uncle Rasto Sakulo said.
The family said it hoped well-wishers could help transport the young man’s body back to his hometown for burial, another cost they said they couldn’t afford.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition