Long-running antagonism between police and commercial motorcycle operators in Liberia turned deadly earlier this month when a police officer allegedly struck a motorcyclist with his baton and killed him.
The officer was reportedly in pursuit of the cyclist for allegedly violating an ordinance which prohibits motorcycles to be in certain parts of the capital, Monrovia.
Police deny the officer killed the motorcyclist. In protest, motorcycle operators burned down a police station and destroyed other property.
A senate committee has called for a meeting Thursday between the police and a union representing commercial motorcycle drivers. Robert Sammie, secretary general of the Motorcyclists Union of Liberia, said the police officer who allegedly murdered the driver should be disciplined and taken to court.
“In most cases, the police have not been professional with the cyclists. So, this is not the very first time. This is [a series of] unsettled grievances that culminated in the burning down of the police station. So, that should be the issue that we should have as a concern,” he said.
A police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some of the riders have used their motorcycles to commit petty crimes by snatching things from passersby.
Sammie said the law prohibiting motorcyclists from traveling in certain parts of the capital was passed without the input of the motorcyclists.
“We still think that restriction was not participatory; that restriction didn’t involve our participation to have suggested to the government how we could go about it,” Sammie said.
He said, instead charging the officer, the government has established a committee to investigate the matter, something Sammie said is a waste of resources.
Sammie said the police have arrested about 30 motorcyclists and charged them with criminal mischief resulting in property damage of about $500,000, as well as attempted murder.
“We think it is almost like a death sentence for these indigents, these poor, hungry Liberians most of whom were street vendors who were struggling to survive were charged,” he said.
He expressed regret the motorcyclists destroyed property during their protests instead of channeling their grievances through the legal system.
The police said they have sent for two Ghanaian pathologists to assist with their investigation.
Sammie said the public will have to trust in the Liberian justice system if the police officer is brought before a judge to answer for his crimes.