I got a phone call around 3:45 today: “Mob violence on 13th Street. Don’t go there.” Well, guess what I did. Picked up my camera and ran over there as fast as my little knock-kneed legs could take me. By the time I arrived on the scene though, most of the crowd had dispersed and an eyewitness told me the police had taken those involved away. “What happened?” I asked. “They say he was a rogue,” she answered. Not the mischievous rascal one normally thinks of upon hearing that word, but a thief. When he was caught, the people in the vicinity began to beat him up.
Unfortunately, mob violence is the only sure form of justice here in Liberia, and it has become a major problem. There is a large billboard on the main road asking us not to engage in mob violence, but when we are attacked and robbed (even raped and killed) our perpetrators are usually not tracked down and not prosecuted. If they are caught, a bribe to a corrupt officer sets them free. Even worse, the “human rights people” sometimes get involved to make sure the criminal is set free if there is no evidence found and no charges made in 48 hours. Meanwhile, the victim lies in fear at home, in pain and fear at the hospital, or dead at the morgue. No human rights people in sight.
We are now in a vicious battle with the worst of the criminals—the armed robbers who come at night taking full advantage of our non-electrified city, and under cover of tropical rains that they know will drown out our screams. Once upon a time the rains lulled us to sleep; now they keep us awake. The robbers come armed with guns, knives, and cutlasses because they know that if they are caught and alarms are raised, they will die. Their options: steal and get away, or steal and then kill any witnesses who might alert the whole pissed-off neighborhood. Our options: pretend we don’t see them, pray they won’t panic and kill us, kill them before they kill us, or catch them and take them through a system that will only further victimize us by making us pay to keep the criminal in custody.
15,000 UNwilling-to-get-involved troops, local police with no weapons, and courts with no conscience. Next time someone calls to warn me about mob violence, I’ll have to think more carefully: take a camera, or take a stick?