From continual observations, many people in Liberia including human right activists always criticized or lashed out the Police for what they described as over acting in situations like civil disturbances that have the implication for infringement of the fundamental rights of others.
For example, a mob action that results into arson of police station or depot in a given locality is technically an infringement of other people right to justice In other words, where do they carry complains or report cases that warrant police investigation? When protestors take the whole street either by road blocks, aren’t they impeding the movement of other people through vehicle? At the end of the day, the police unfairly take bulk of the blame.
In order to have a professional Police that respect democratic values, criticisms against police actions are necessary. However, our society should understandably balance the criticisms by considering that as a result of the deadly civil crisis, we now live in a corrosive environment that demand different style of policing. Understanding this will help of all to strategically engage into advocacy for changing our society as in the case of the “changing mind and attitudes” introduced by Rev. Dr./Atty. Laurence Bropleh.
In absence of lexicon or reference book meaning, corrosive environment appears to be a victim of contextual pluralism that of course subjects it to debate or argument.
Using civil conflict as a conceptual framework, a corrosive environment depicts or describes a unfortunate situation in which the entire social fabric of a given society suffers setbacks as a result of lost of values and respects. The values and respects eroded by the deadly Liberian civil war transcends the elders and traditional or customs norms. It is also manifested by disrespect for civil authority such as the Police and other relevant law enforcement agencies. It is characterized by open challenge mainly from the young generation toward law enforcers.
For example, when a police officer fully identified or dressed in uniform attempts to invite a person complained by another person, people in the community will say, he or she is not going anywhere, a group of people demanding from the police that a criminal suspect be turned over them. Etc. are common examples of open challenges that typifies a corrosive environment. By way of feedback from this article, I stand to be corrected that prior to our civil (Liberia) war, people have respect for civil authority or law enforcer, burning down of police stations or depots as a result of mob action was never common. If it ever happens, one could consider it as an isolated case.
Arguably, a corrosive environment bears the semblance of violence that derived from the exposure of the youths to the violent behavior during the civil conflict especially in places associated with violence. It becomes part of the youth subculture due to the prolong civil war that gives them a false sense of bravery. To them it is the right or correct approach to dealing with grievances.
For those of you that study sociology will understand the term socialization as it relates to sub-culture. In paraphrase, it arguably explains that people are more likely to engage into behavior that over the years they see a culture. This assumption could explain the violent behavior of the youths (motor cyclists or riders) that resulted into arson of the police station in Sacleapea in 2011and the recent vandalism of Arcelot Melta properties in Yeakepa, Nimba County.
In this kind of environment, what should be the style of policing? Should the police be more robust or passive? Take for instance, in 2011, following the looting and arson in some part of London, former British Prime Minister David Cameron called for robust police action. This is how he bluntly putted it. “There should be a “more robust” approach from the police”. The police numbers on the streets increased from 6,000 to 16,000 so as to deal with the civil disturbance.
Similarly, you may be aware about the style of policing in Guinea Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria etc. are more robust that to some extend ignore human right standards because of the corrosive environment in which they operate.
Though cognizant about human rights standards, robust action demand the use of police force in any situation characterized by arson, looting, vandalism of properties or even throwing stones or objects at the police that implies a sense of jeopardy. According to police training on “The Force Continuum, there are certain behaviors or conduct when displayed by a suspect or group of people (collective behavior) that justify the kind of police force in which human rights become derogated or irrelevant. For example, in a riot or civil disturbance situation in which the rioters engage in behavior equated or tantamount to what is called in Police Science “Aggravated Active Aggression” (Guns, Knives, Blunt Instruments, or any other means or device that can potentially cause death or serious injury), robust police action demands the ultimate degree of force such as the use of Hands, Feet, Knees, Batons, Chemicals, Guns etc. Whenever people engages in “Aggravated Active Aggression” that demand the use of police baton on certain parts of the body such as the head, neck, joints which are forbidden in Active Aggression become irrelevant for human rights standards. In this kind of situation, people who don’t understand will want to criticize the police reaction as human right abuse or police brutality. This was exactly what happened during Liberia post-election violence in 2011.
Similarly, whenever an individual as a result of complain from another person is invited to accompany the police to the depot, the “No “or negative response as an open challenge has communicated to the officer another terminology in Police Science called “Verbal Non-Compliance” that also justify another use of force called “Empty Hand Control” (Using physical contact to control the suspect utilizing only the body’s natural weapons such as the hands, limbs, head etc. Again, people who don’t understand this aspect of law enforcement will want to condemn the police action by saying; why are you hauling or dragging the man or woman? Has he or she committed any crime or kill somebody? In fact, he or she is not going anywhere. Eventually, the officer is faced with public sentiment.
In conclusion, policing in a corrosive environment does not in any way negate human right standards. It only explains robust policing proportional to the kind or behavior or conduct displayed by people engaging into what Sociology called collective behavior. Arguably, it is just like the Liberian adage “A bad sore needs strong medicine” for curing.
Let it be borne in mind that policing in a corrosive environment is not to cover up or justify police brutality. It is necessary to guide human right activists, advocates and the print media so as to be careful in criticizing the police actions. It is also necessary for helping those appointed to investigate robust police actions so as to understand the environment in which the operation took place.
By Ambrues M. Nebo