Patricia Toe: An Unsolicited Eulogy
By: Ezekiel Pajibo
December 23, 2003
One way I have taken in my need to get re-immersed in the “Liberian way of life” is to attend Mass regularly, to fellowship, to worship and for the inevitable - running into old acquaintances. But this Sunday, the sermon was as telling as it was relevant. My parish priest said that his sermon was being delivered with a “heavy heart.” He said his heart was heavy because he just lost a best friend, a childhood friend, a schoolmate and a neighbour, he grew up with. He lost Patricia Toe. He did not mention her married name, the one that makes the woman belongs to a man. He did not even mention the fact that she was married and a mother of three. He remembered only that she was a close friend and that he had only last seen her the Thursday before her death.
My parish priest then began to talk about the forces of good and evil and how they manifest themselves in our time. He pointed out that evil and good live side by side. According to my parish priest, evil reside in people who “look like us, act like us, eat with us, sleep with us under the same roof…” but we can never know what evil lurks in their “hearts”. My pastor said that when he received a phone call early Saturday morning (1:00 A.M.) about the death of his childhood friend, he was unable to go to the scene of the crime immediately. Security of movement was a major reason. He, needless to say, couldn’t sleep all night. He spent the rest of the early morning hours “keeping company with the guardsmen at the Parish.”
The crime my Pastor spoke about in his Sunday sermon was the murder/suicide, which took place on Smythe Road in Sinkor in the early morning of December 13. Patricia Toe, 28 was shot by her husband, a member of the Special Security Services, the agency that provide protection to the Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia. According to those who saw the body including my pastor, Patricia was shot at least 8 times, if not 10 at very close range. She was disfigured and the scene of the murder gruesome. One version of the story that is making the rounds but difficult to ascertain is that after the husband had shot his wife for ten years, with as many bullets, he proceeded to the home of Patricia’s mother apparently to carryout a similar and sinister plan of violently assaulting the mother and his own children, who were at the time staying with their grandmother. When Patricia’s mother saw her son-in-law approaching her house she screamed, ran into her house and locked herself in with the children. Neighbours heard her scream and came out of their homes to see what was going on. Her son-in-law, upon seeing so many onlookers, retreated and returned to his apartment where he cowardly shot himself.
The brutal death of a daughter, a mother and a friend at the hands of her husband, who is an officer of the law is a dramatic and grim reminder to us all of the latent violence against women that characterises our man-dominant practices - known as “our culture”. This “culture” promotes a belief that the man is a breadwinner and sole authority in our homes. He is lord and he lords over us using violent means. The fact that most homes are really run by the sweat and blood of women don’t temper this belief. If a man brings home more money than his income allows, he is not reprimanded and accused of stealing someone’s or some organization’s money. He is not accused of being supported by a woman. But if a woman brings home more money than her salary allows, she is accused of having a boyfriend, really a man friend. The “two by four” husband proceed to unleash violence against her, our communities watch in silence and murmur in their cowardice and self-righteousness a perceived “guilt” of the woman - a blame the victim paradigm. This attitude lends cultural legitimacy to what essentially is a criminal behaviour. Assault is a crime in our country and those who assault women are committing crime and should be held accountable. This doesn’t readily happen in Liberia and we need to change that. Women are not men’s “punching bags”. Women are partners, mothers, friends, sisters, daughters, lovers and leaders in our community. The men who perpetrate violence against women must be made to stop their criminal behaviour. They need to know that the real demonstration of manhood is not imposing violence but observing and devotion to the values of caring, sharing and loving those of the opposite sex. It is not violent dominance, not wife-beating, cursing or killing that makes a man a “real man”, whatever that means.
While we are on violence against women, mention should be made of the fact that too many grown men are sleeping with too many little girls, who are mere children. This is a form of sexual violence as well. In many cases, these young girls are being defiled and used as sexual toys. Just listen to the blithe and boastful talks of those who so indulge and you will get a sense of my concerns. Our “culture” needs to begin a public discussion on this matter. It speaks of the decay in our sense of morality if we don’t speak out against this abomination. The issue of sexual dominance by men who almost always employ violence to exercise and maintain that dominance is a blight on our national conscience. If there is an age of consent - some say 13 others say 16 - adults who sleep with young girls within this category or younger, should be charged with a crime, called it “statutory rape.” Men’s power over the use of women’s body is a major issue crying out for hearing, redress and justice. Liberians cannot pay deaf ears to this one. I would go a later further and say that adult men should not sleep with any girl who is not qualified to vote. Now that is a campaign platform, which our feminists, men and women can undertake.
As the family of Patricia Toe mourns her death, as my parish priest grieves over the loss of his childhood friend, as Patricia’s friends and work mates ponder her gruesome murder, we all need to work and create a society where Patricia’s children will grow without fear of violence, where men don’t beat up the wives, sisters and daughters and where we honour and celebrate womanhood. This is our challenge, and this is what the new Liberia should be about. The brutal outrageous death of Patricia Toe at least demands that.