Its original moniker (name) was Kru Beach, but since the advent of the Liberian Maritime Authority’s Beaches & Waterways Project, it is now known as Riverside. It occupies a wide stretch of the Atlantic coast in the populous community of West Point in Monrovia.
A tour of the community last Tuesday, January 7— following allegations of the massive infusion of drugs, (marijuana, and cocaine) in the community— revealed a far cry from those who were allegedly linked to them. As I walked through several zinc shacks towards the rendezvous, accompanied by a generous resident who informed me that it would be extremely dangerous for me to visit alone, we emerged into a corridor spaced between three houses.
“Watch those people to your right and those ahead of you,” my guide told me, “these are the people who are heavily involved in the sale and use of drugs.” I followed the direction of my guide. The eyes of several young men looked in our direction; I averted my eyes.
“They are mean and can be violent,” he said. A few seconds later, after we meandered our way into another area, he added, “they jerk bags and cellphones and sometimes they threaten others with knives.”
The young men were mean looking and strongly built. There were loud uncontrolled discussions among them, as unrelated questions about our presence flew back and forth.
“You see that fellow with the white shirt?” my guide asked me, as we passed another group of men, “his name is Dalema George. There are seven drug gangs in this community.”
We made it towards the beach and arrived at an open area with women huddled, seemingly in their own world. There were feces in several places, which was of little concern to them.
Young women from sixteen to eighteen years had babies on their backs, and the early morning sun made the area attractive, as cold breeze from the Atlantic Ocean fanned the area.
Down on the beach, my guide told me, “You’ve already seen three of the areas. Those men could have harmed you, particularly with a bag hanging on your side like that.” My response was mild and I could feel my heart beat suddenly increase.
We came across several canoes obviously owned by fishermen. My guide said, “These people have nothing to do with the drugs in the community,” and then seconds later, he pointed out, “You see that tall boy there.” I nodded and he said, “That’s Galawala, his brother’s name is Ghankay, one of the leading drug dealers in our community.”
Not far from us were two white tents, the high pitched voices of men emanated from inside them. A young man who had observed us emerged from one of the openings and waited, pretending he was just looking around. Satisfied that we were harmless, he went back into the shadows.
“That was the drug leader called Fico,” my guide said, “this is a dangerous place to come to at night.” There was a motel nearby with loudspeakers blaring songs filled the area.
Young girls, about ten in number, yelled at each other in what seemed to be a serious argument. As the argument continued and an older man walked by us; and suddenly stopped.
“Those girls don’t live here,” he told us without any probing, as we smiled. “They come from other communities and are able to ‘rent’ and smoke, so they keep coming back.”
At the satellite office of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Col. Mentor Yormie, the officer in charge of West Point and Bushrod Island, sat in an unlighted and depressing room, he described as his office. The office was established nearly three months ago, and is located in a secluded building at the edge of the Waterside Market’s entrance. There was no light and the two desks looked in need of replacing. The floor did not reflect what a person would expect of the office of a government agency. I was welcomed by an officer who informed his chief of my presence.
Col. Yormie welcomed me into the dark office. He talked about the challenge of working with a limited number of staff. “I have six officers in the field investigating drugs related issues,” he said.
Answering the question as to what types of drugs were in the community, Col. Yormie said, “Majorly it is marijuana,” but a local resident explained that he has observed young men and women sniffing a white-colored power that is placed on a spoon, describing it as ‘cocaine.’
“Like how they do it in the movies,” the resident said with a smile.
Col. Yormie meanwhile said, “We have collaborated with the police and other agencies to track down drug agents and those caught are sent to court. We have also destroyed seven ghetto shacks that dealt in the sale and use of drugs,” he added, pointing to the wall, as pictures of the burning and the arrests were pasted.
“The problem is that after destroying those ghetto shacks, they are quickly rebuilt. Therefore, we are now concentrating on identifying those who bring drugs into the West Point community,” Col. Yormie said.
“Who are involved, as far as your agency is concerned, in the peddling of drugs in this community?” The answer seemed obvious following the recent arrest of a police patrolman with drugs, Col, Yormie said there were Nigerian businessmen involved but denied the involvement of anyone at the West Point Commissioner’s Office.
Individuals interviewed across West Point, including Lawrence Nah, 23, said, “It is foolish for anyone to blame the Commissioner (Miatta Flowers), for peddling in drugs. That allegation is false.”
James Baidoo, a fisherman, said, “I go to sea and come in town occasionally, but there is no evidence whatsoever that Commissioner Flowers is involved in the dealing of drugs.”
20-year-old Rebecca Tamba commented, “It is not true that Commissioner Flowers is involved in drugs there are people who are disgruntled who blame others for their own problems.”
James S. Sarlee, 44, backed the commissioner saying, “There is no proof that Commissioner Flowers is involved with drugs. I think people say that because those who are arrested are sometimes set free, there could be someone powerful getting these criminals released.”
“The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) does not work under Commissioner Miatta Flowers, and she does not dictate or control any government agency,” a DEA officer told the Daily Observer.
“How could someone accuse her of involvement in peddling drugs in West Point? Her role is to lead the people and develop the community,” someone in her office said.
When we interviewed Commissioner Flowers, she said she regretted the resentment that certain individuals show towards her office.
“If someone is at the age of 40 and still at the university,” she said, “I cannot be blamed for that. As a community we must work to solve our problems together.”
“It’s disrespectful to my office for anyone, whatever his or her motive, to slander my reputation on the radio when I am called to challenge my accuser,” she explained.
Commissioner Flowers said slander against government officials— as often practiced in the media— is not how people should work to solve any problem in any community.
“No one should slander my reputation because of erroneous assumptions and the media should not make room for such people,” Commissioner Flowers said. “If anybody has a case the person should contact the police and let the law take its course.”