The Paynesville Business Association has mandated all businesses in Red Light to shut down until the government can investigate an alleged police assault on a store owner.
Alpha Sall, who was reportedly assaulted by an officer of the Liberia National Police, said he was loading his customer’s goods from the warehouse when a police officer asked him to stop from bringing any goods outside to put on the truck. He said after an altercation between them, his father came from the shop to intervene.
“I asked him why, and he said that it is a new law. You must get a permit from the City Corporation before parking any car in Red Light,” Sall said. "The Police officer wanted to slap me but I dodged his hand and he slapped my father. The officer slapped my father and handcuffed me to put me in prison, but it was through the intervention of the sellers in Red Light that made the police release me."
The association, the majority of whom are Fulanis, were going from one business center to the other ordering store owners to lock their stores in solidarity to call the attention of the government to the offense allegedly committed by the police officer. The group has also threatened to close down businesses until the government can properly intervene in the situation at Red Light.
Sheikh Jollo, the group’s president, explained that since the relocation of street sellers from Red Light, there has been a series of harassment from police officers assigned in the area. He added that the police are even entering into their shops and stores, asking them to leave the area and move to The mega-market without considering that the Omega Market needs better preparation.
“It has come to the attention of business leaders that there is too much harassment and intimidation by the police assigned in Red Light to enforce the relocation mandate by the government," he added. "Since the relocation exercise, business owners have had a series of challenges from the police. For God’s sake, if you want to remove people from Red Light, try to build the environment for them to relocate instead of just coming to tell us to transfer to Omega. So we are calling on the government to intervene in this matter.
However, since sellers were asked on July 10 this year to leave Red Light, many sellers have remained defiant to the government and are converging daily at the Red Light to sell. Others who have relocated are complaining that the presence of sellers remaining at Red Light causes buyers to not have to go to Omega, and this is causing serious economic setbacks for them.
They had complained earlier that if the trend now continues, they would leave the Omega Market to return to Red Light. Those at Omega also blame the store owners for keeping street sellers at Red Light because, when the police are chasing the stubborn street sellers, the sellers seek refuge inside the stores until the police leave. Then they (sellers) later return with the same behavior.
He argued that the police are saying that the business owners can only offload goods from the suppliers.
Police spokesperson, Moses Carter, said both the officer and the alleged victims are before the Professional Service Division. “We are going to investigate and take the appropriate action. The professional Service Act calls for 30 days, but sometimes if we get information available it could be less than 30 days. If we do not get the information, it could be more than 90 days,” Carter said.
According to him, the police do not have the right to stop the parking of vehicles at Red Light, but rather the responsibility of the City Government, in keeping with City Ordinances. “The police do not get involved with city ordinance regulations, except when we are called upon. If they have issues of such, they need to have contacted the city government immediately to seek redress.”
Jeremiah Diggen, Paynesville City Corporation’s Public Relation Officer, said his office was not aware of the incident and promised to seek clarity about it.
Sheikh Jollo, when contacted during the evening hours yesterday said: “We had a meeting with the commander at Central depot, and tomorrow we are assembling at the Ministry of Public Works. He added that businesses will remain closed at Red Light until they can have proper redress.