21 December 2012

Liberia: Witnessing Police Brutality Against a Sanitation Worker - a Reminder of Our Brutal Past

It wasn't a dream or a movie. No, not at all! It was real-- happening right before my eyes. Traffic got blocked for at least 10 munities, and impatient drivers and motorcyclists shrieked their horns, as the angry crowd swelled on the scene. Whether it was and entertaining or eye-catching scene, I don't care. What remains unquestionable here is that on Friday, November 30, 2012, a recruit police officer misused his "power" and brutalized a sanitation worker. Period!

It was about 4:05 PM. Alfred had worked the whole day, making sure that the part of the city he works is clean. Neatly dressed in blue-turned-black overhaul marked OCEANS (indicating the company for which he works), Alfred met the worst luck of the day, while carrying a wheelbarrow heavily mounted with garbage he had collected along the streets.

He is one of those poor Liberians honestly working and believing in the principle of "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." Besides, as lowly as his work is (in the Liberian context) Alfred has to work to keep life going--making the environment, the city, looks better and healthy at his own health risk. The company he works for, OCEANS, I understand, is one of the several companies that deploy workers in the streets of Monrovia to collect garbage as a means of making Monrovia looks like a city in terms of cleanliness.

Quite frankly, Monrovia is today looking better than what it used to be more than three years ago, before the controversial acting City Mayor Mary Broh took over. Broh has her own emotional problems on how to deal with garbage and dirty communities and people, but above all she had done well over the years. Today, there are several groups contracted and subcontracted including Zoom Lion, NC Sanators, OCEANS, besides street sweepers from the city corporation of Monrovia that are working around the clock to keep the capital clean like other cities at least in West Africa. To borrow from Truth FM's Mamadee Diakate, "Liberia is getting better" and we will get there one day.

Alfred was struggling to cross the road with the heap of garbage in the wheelbarrow, but speeding motorcyclists and other vehicles on the other lane could not give him chance. Meanwhile an unmarked gray jeep carrying three men was already behind Alfred, hounding him to leave the road to allow it pass, angry eyewitnesses said. The driver of the jeep came ever closer. Alfred was not deterred. He was in the middle of the road (and could do nothing else), waiting for signal to cross with his garbage for disposal.

At this juncture, the driver in the unmarked jeep angrily opened the vehicle's door which hit Alfred and his wheelbarrow. The mound of garbage dumped, almost crossing the entire lane. Now, this increased the problem: he could no longer move his vehicle as his alleged unruly attitude had caused a road block. The garbage carrier insisted that he would not remove the garbage because he was struggling to cross the road, but the driver in the gray jeep dumped it. There was a need for the police to come in to investigate the saga, he had demanded. Unfortunately for this poor man, he would be the victim of his quest for justice. The police would soon come in--a probational Police Officer (PPO), one of those wearing the recruit uniforms.

I understand from the angry crown that the PPO, as the new recruits assigned in the streets are called, could have helped the situation (as he was nearby) by signaling motorcyclists and other vehicles to stop to allow Alfred pass. He never helped the situation. As soon as the driver in the car hit the garbage collector, he came there to handcuff the man," explained a bystander.

Alfred told this writer in whimper that after the man allegedly hit him and his wheelbarrow-fill garbage with the car door, he (driver) demanded that he (Alfred) clean the street. It was in the midst of this argument, he alleged, the police officer came and decided to handcuff him on the orders of the vehicle owner, without investigating to know what had happened. I witnessed this brutal action of the police and the vehicle occupants, and I managed to take several photos.

There, I witnessed the police recruit and the three men from the vehicle brutalizing (beating, kicking and slapping) the resisting Alfred in order to cuff him. Alfred, probably because of the kind of job he does, is really strong. The Police officer could never have subdued him. It took the PPO and three solid and muscularly-built men from the gray jeep to wound and cuff him.

Immediately after the sanitation worker was subdued and cuffed, the unidentified men got in their unmarked jeep and left the area--leaving Alfred (with bruises on his hands) and the police officer on the scene. As the angry crowd got angrier, raining insults at the panicky officer and threatening to retaliate, the officer immediately unfasten the handcuff. Nobody needed to tell him to run to a motorbike and fled the scene, too.

"This is a complete abuse of power; we can't tolerate this in our society and the new police force," stated an angry citizen. Women on the scene said they were prepared to do anything to revenge the manhandling of the OCEANS employee if he had not been released. "This man helping to clean our street; what kinda [kind of] wickedness is that for the untrained police man, small boy like that to handcuff him?" a vegetable seller on the scene wondered.

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