So I was parking my motorcycle last night outside of the Palm hotel to meet some friends for dinner when this cop came up to me and told me that I was in violation of the no bikes after 8pm rule, and that my bike was “arrested.” (Just to be clear, the bike was arrested, I was never arrested.) At first I was very skeptical of such a rule, I wasn’t really sure what to do. But being someone who gets pulled over all the time I kept my cool, acted like I had all the time in the world, and parked my bike over where he had pulled over a few other bikes.
After I parked my bike he asked for the key. I told him I wouldn’t give him the key. He asked why and I told him because I don’t trust the police in Liberia. There’s no way I’m going to leave my bike with those guys. If I got it back, it’d probably be missing the battery and a few other parts. So we talked for a while. He kept mentioning that it was at his “discretion” as to how to handle violators of this law I had never heard of. A few of the people gathered next to me told me I should “compromise” with the officer. I told them I didn’t compromise. The officer asked, “What do you want to do” and I was like, “Whatever is required by the law.”
We talked some more and then he decided we should go to the central police station. I agreed. He had one of the other bikes he had pulled him over drive him up there while I followed behind. I gave him my passenger’s helmet. I didn’t want him to break the law by not wearing a helmet.
Upon my arrival at “Central” I met his boss, his boss’s boss, and his boss’s, boss’s boss, and we talked more. The law changed from applying to all motorcycles, to applying to bikes with “CMC”, or Commercial Motorcycle, plates (The Ministry of Transport refused to give me a regular motorcycle plate because too many people were getting personal plates and then using their bikes as taxis, or so I was told). Then the price of the ticket I would have to pay went from $35 to $45, and then back to $35. I asked if I should pay a ticket and they said it was 9:00pm and they couldn’t write tickets then. I asked when I should come back in the morning, and I never got a straight answer to that one. We then talked about my work with Georgia Tech, and what I do in Liberia. Finally since I was affiliated with a university, and a couple of them went to the University of Liberia, obviously a common bond, they decided to let me go.
However, then I had to explain why I had said I didn’t trust the police. Looking back on it, I probably could have chosen my words a little more carefully. I told them how I’d been in Liberia a while and I knew how things worked, that I get pulled over for doing nothing, and I gave my corruption monologue, and they were pretty understanding. In the end they turned out to be pretty nice guys and we were cracking jokes. I even got one of their numbers. I asked if I could go on patrol with them some time and they said sure. So maybe I’ll try to hook that up.
But what I really want to talk about is how ridiculous this rule is. I checked with my friend at the Ministry of Justice, and sure enough, due to the fact that armed robbers have been using motorcycles in their robberies Ellen decided to ban motorcycles on the road past 8pm. Since the government’s ban on arms in the country has been so effective at stopping armed robberies, they’ve decided to extend it to motorcycles. (If you can’t tell from the tone of my text, there’s a lot of sarcasm in that last sentence).
I mean really? No bikes past 8? All that does is screw over the Liberians who are trying to get home at night and can’t find a taxi, or the Liberian who’s just barely middle class, saved up all year, and finally bought him or herself a bike, and now has to worry about leaving work too late. Not to mention any bike rider who just wants to cruise around, like me. I’m sure that while a robber is grabbing a machete, or AK-47, he’s thinking, “geez, can’t take the bike… Maybe we should just call it a night.” They’re probably thinking “guess we should just steal a car.” Or most likely, they don’t think about it at all.
It’d be one thing if the citizens of Monrovia were plagued by the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. If women and children couldn’t walk the streets at night because marauding gangs of bikers on 100cc Chinese made motorcycles were out wreaking havoc, then I’d be fine with the law. But the robbers are just using the bike as a getaway vehicle. They’re probably wearing pants during their robberies too, maybe they should ban pants passed 8 as well.
Building capacity in the police force and fighting corruption in the Liberian justice system would probably be slightly more effective. Maybe even figuring out where these armed robbers are getting their arms. Or how about coordinating neighborhood watches, and ensuring quicker responses to robberies. I’ve been told by robbery victims how the police at the police station a quarter mile away waited till the robbers left before they came over. Which gets at another issue I’d love to write about but I’m not going to: Do you really expect unarmed police to engage armed robbers?
I’ve been trying to think of peaceful ways to protest this law. I was told that not too long ago the motorcycle riders got together and blocked an intersection in protest of these sort of discriminatory laws, which just resulted in all the bikes being locked up at the police station. So I guess Critical Mass style demonstrations won’t be that effective. I’ll keep ya posted.