'Brutality Beyond Words': Kenyan Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesting Children
Fighting to keep school playground, Kenyan children and activists assaulted by police
Kenyan police fired tear gas at a crowd of children protesting the seizure of their school playground by a property developer on Monday.
About 100 children between eight and 13 years old from Langata Road primary school in Nairobi, along with a smaller group of parents and activists, converged in front of a newly built wall that separated their school building from a playing field, which had been built over a holiday.
As the children tried to access the playground, roughly 40 police officers who responded to the scene fired tear gas canisters at the crowd, forcing them to disperse. Officers also reportedly brought police dogs to help them break up the crowds.
Agence France-Presse reported that the dozens of children who were caught choking in the fumes ran to take shelter on a pedestrian bridge nearby.
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In a video published by Reuters, the crowd can be seen pushing against the barriers that separate the field from the school building, forcing open the gate and breaking down a smaller cement section of the wall amid cheers of celebration. Some of the children held up signs proclaiming, "Kenya: Land of the shameless grabbers" and "Land Grabbing is Terror Against Children."
Activist Boniface Mwangi told Al Jazeera, "The children were peaceful and all they wanted was access to their playground during break time. The children walked peaceful to the gate that has been set up by the grabber and police responded with tear gas. A few of them were injured."
According to Mwangi, the developer who seized the playground is a powerful politician. "The governor, the senator and other government officials are all scared of the politician, they cannot do anything to stop the playground from the being taken," he told the Associated Press. The playground is reportedly due to be paved into a parking lot.
Charges of land grabs by Kenyan officials has become a controversial issue in the country.
An extended video shows armed police violently accosting some of the adult protesters.
Mwangi later Tweeted:
When the teargas was thrown the MPs were whisked away by their bodyguards but the brave kids remained behind and demolished the wall.
— Boniface Mwangi (@bonifacemwangi) January 19, 2015
Macharia Njeru, chairman of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, told AFP that the police would be investigated for their actions. "Tear gassing children is inexcusable," she said.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga told AP, "This is brutality beyond words and greed beyond description. It is difficult to believe that police can actually deploy against primary school children and lob tear gas at them to defend a land grabber. This image of a nation determined to steal forcefully from its own children cannot be what we aspire to. It cannot be the legacy we want to bequeath the children."