The ransacking of the Pleebo Police Station and the torching of the home of House Speaker Bhofal Chambers by an angry crowd of protesters exasperated by the poor Police response to the suspected ritual killing of a motorcyclist should constitute a wake-up call to officials of this government to stop taking the people for granted.
Based on eyewitness accounts, the violence was provoked by Police who allegedly fired into the angry crowd in attempt to drive the protesters off the streets. The sheer size of the angry crowd estimated to have been over ten thousand strong simply overwhelmed the Police swarming the city in search of the alleged killer.
By all accounts, the bloody events in Pleebo clearly attest to the failure of the criminal justice system which, according to human rights activists, is rooted in a culture of impunity. They maintained that Maryland county at one time was occupied by fighters of the George Boley-led Liberia Peace Council.
Recalling the names of notorious killers like Generals Satan and Noriega, who they accused of committing egregious crimes against the civil population, they pointed out that those individuals are going about with impunity, while their leader George Boley is now a member of the House of Representatives.
This most recent development comes in the wake of the issuance of the 2020 US State Department Human Rights Report which has highlighted issues of arbitrary killings, detention and other serious lapses within the judiciary branch of government.
The report also flagged arbitrary killings by Police including cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and life threatening conditions of imprisonment. Arbitrary detention by government officials; the lack of independence of the judiciary; restrictions on press freedom including violence and threats of violence against journalists; official corruption and a host of other violations were flagged in the report.
In the wake of the disturbances, President Weah reacting to the situation declared that those responsible for the violence and destruction of public property, will be dealt with in keeping with the law.
But whether such will serve to assuage the anger of the people of Pleebo, Harper and adjacent areas to deter them from further protest action appears unlikely in view of the fact that the murder suspect remains at large.
In the wake of the situation, questions are being asked why it is taking the Police so long to apprehend the suspect who has been positively identified? Pleebo, where the act was committed, is said to be awash with rumors suggesting the involvement of a top government official in killing of the motorcyclist. And it is fueling public anger and rising anti-government sentiment.
Additionally, it appears that officials of this government do not seem to understand the depth of popular resentment against this government which appears to be growing by the day.
It is within this context, perhaps, that the arson attack on the home of Speaker Chambers can be explained. Simply put, government officials are increasingly becoming objects of public hate and scorn.
This newspaper has received credible reports that some public officials are, in some instances, moving about incognito while some drive vehicles without license plates. All of this suggests fear and foreboding, and this is what makes it scary according to a retired diplomat and lawyer.
Such feelings and perceptions of insecurity on the part of the ruling elite, according to him, can lead to actions that violate human rights in the name of maintaining state security.
In view of the situation, this government needs to act with dispatch to bring the suspected killers to justice for the failure to do so will serve to encourage those espousing violence. President Weah needs to turn his attention to the Liberia National Police (LNP).
Under the leadership of Patrick Sudue, public confidence in the Police has waned to the point where it is now the tendency to resort to mob/vigilante action to address the need for justice.
Thousands of angry protesters marching through the city of Pleebo and clearly outnumbering the Police who attempted but failed to drive them from the streets sent a clear message which has apparently not soaked in. It is a warning to this government to not push the people too far for the consequences could be far reaching.
Violence must not be tolerated and those who perpetrated such violence should be made to account. However, it must not be forgotten that people are people and, when they have had enough, they will act. The sacking from office of Burkina Faso dictator Blaise Compaore by an angry crowd underscored the power of the people to act to change their conditions of existence.
President Weah has now a little less than three (3) years left to the completion of his term of office and indications suggest he is mulling a second-term run. However, as the results of the December Polls show, he appears to have lost that touch of magic that saw his party make a near clean sweep of legislative seats in the 2005 and 2011 elections.
Under his direction, the economy has worsened and taken a nosedive from which recovery appears to be a long way off, at least not within the next year and a half, according to pundits. Under his leadership, the nation has seen a string of killings of public officials which have gone with virtual impunity.
Who can doubt that the actions of the protesters in Pleebo may not have been influenced by perceptions that the ritual killing of the young motorcyclist would have gone with impunity had they not acted in the way they did?
In the opinion of the Daily Observer, President Weah ought to come to grips with the problem of public lack of confidence in the Police under its current leadership. He cannot afford to delay this in view of what appears to be an increasing tendency to resort to mob violence and vigilante action to address issues of justice. He can begin this process by setting up an ad hoc body with clear terms of reference to probe the disturbances and make recommendations for immediate implementation.