M.O.B. (money over bitches)

Thug life ain't no good life, but it's my life.

Thugs known to bust on sight

God bless my crazy life,

La vida loca homie

Steve Satterwhite
Watson Chery, shortly before his murder, holds a friend's child and throws a Westside sign; his mother Catherine cries out for answers
Watson Chery, shortly before his murder, holds a friend's child and throws a Westside sign; his mother Catherine cries out for answers

Livin that thug life.

-- Tupac Shakur, "M.O.B."

Loss of Innocence

Nineteen-year-old Watson Chery knew the Eastside boys wanted to take him out. One Tuesday last spring he came home, fell into his favorite chair in the kitchen, and blurted, "Mommy, I almost died today. They're after me."

Catherine Chery suspected the eldest of her four children was flirting with trouble. After being expelled from high school for fighting, he began wearing his hair in braids and went out with his pants drooping below his boxer shorts. He had no job. He tattooed himself with references to his favorite rap songs, and was way more fluent in black American hip-hop slang than in the Creole language the family spoke at home.

As hard-working Haitian immigrants, ambitious for themselves and their children, of course Catherine and her husband Ernest were worried. And they grew even more worried after their soft-spoken son told them about a recent incident at a street fair, in which another Haitian-American teen with the nickname "Funny E" had tried to force Watson into the trunk of a car.

But was someone really out to kill him?

"Why? Why?" Catherine Chery wails, suddenly leaping up from her dining room table, where she is reliving the torment of the past few months while kneading a striped pullover shirt that still smells of her son's favorite cologne, 360° by Perry Ellis. "Oh, Watson, why did you leave me?"

As his wife reels around the dining room in utter despair, Ernest Chery sits motionless at the table, slumped in sadness. After several minutes, Catherine Chery composes herself and again takes a seat. She drapes her son's shirt around her neck. "I am not telling you my son was innocent," she says. "But not like this. Not with guns."

Watson Chery did die that Tuesday night in May. From her bedroom window his mother watched him walk down the street with a young woman who had come to the front door. And then Catherine Chery went to bed with severe stomach pains that she now realizes were an omen. In the middle of the night she remembers hearing footsteps, the sounds of her son's spirit. But Watson himself never came home.

North Miami police Ofcr. Andre Mesidor was one of the first on the scene. He saw the body of a slight young man, sprawled face-down at the corner of NW 126th Street and 5th Avenue, just three blocks from the Chery family's modest four-bedroom house. The veteran cop they call Big Foot knew immediately who it was. "I had talked to this boy so many times," he says.

Hit with more than 30 rounds, Chery "had bullet holes from his face to the bottom of his feet," Mesidor recalls. "It was no accident."


North Miami doesn't look like a gangbanger's battleground. With 60,000 residents, the fourth-largest of Miami-Dade County's 29 municipalities boasts eleven parks, a tidy downtown commercial district along NE 125th Street, and plenty of well-kept homes on shady, tree-lined streets. Florida International University's north campus is within the city limits, the respected Museum of Contemporary Art is right next to the police station, and property values are soaring. Tucked between Biscayne Bay and Interstate 95, North Miami appears to be a tidy oasis of tranquility in the city's untamed urban sprawl.

It also serves as a model for peaceful ethnic transformation. In 1990, according to U.S. Census figures, 62 percent of the city's residents were white. Many were elderly and Jewish. Only 31 percent of North Miamians were black. But ten years later those numbers had nearly flip-flopped: 35 percent white and 55 percent black.

The vast majority of the black residents are Haitian, and they showed their growing clout last year by electing Josaphat Celestin, a Port-au-Prince-born architectural engineer, as mayor, and choosing long-time Haitian-American political activist Jacques Despinosse to join one other Haitian on the five-member council. And the city's demographic makeover is far from finished. Of the 1800 students in North Miami Middle School, about 80 percent are Haitian, according to principal Howard I. Weiner. Most of the white faces now seen on North Miami's downtown streets are old.

But at a time when Haitian Americans should be celebrating their political coming of age in North Miami, and reveling in their economic successes, the unexpected happened with a vengeance. Gunfire broke out. Lots of it, from a Norinco SKS 762x39 automatic rifle -- basically an AK-47 -- a Ruger .223 automatic rifle, and an Intratech 9mm pistol, wielded by young Haitian Americans. Their targets: other young Haitian Americans, some former grade school classmates.

Watson Chery is one of seven young men killed gangster-style this past year in a four-month spasm of at least 15 drive-by shootings that has left dozens of others wounded, terrorized a wide swath of north-central Miami-Dade County, and shocked a community that prided itself on hard work, loving families, and safe streets.

In other words, the good life.

Not the thug life.

"We have never seen anything like this. This is brand-new," says North Miami police Asst. Chief Stephen Stepp, a 45-year-old native of North Miami and a cop here for 25 years.

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