M.O.B. (money over bitches)

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


The first sign of trouble surfaced in early April. Kevin Noel, his brother McCandy Saintil, and a third youth were driving along NE 143rd Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, they told North Miami police, when a "long brown car" drew up alongside and sprayed them with bullets. No one was hit, but one slug pierced the front door of Noel's vehicle, and several more ripped into the car of a nearby motorist. Police took a report.

About a month later, on May 9, shooting erupted again, and this time 19-year-old McCandy Saintil wasn't so lucky. He was hanging with a group of friends in the Scott projects on NW 21st Avenue in Liberty City, police said, when he went down in a burst of lead from a passing car. Minutes later someone telephoned Noel to tell him Saintil had been hit. When Noel ran out of the house to go to his brother's side, gunfire rang out again. Noel dropped, two rounds in his stomach.

Catherine and Ernest Chery, along with Catherine's half-sister Shay Tropnas (right), maintain a memorial to Watson at the North Miami street corner where he was gunned down
Catherine and Ernest Chery, along with Catherine's half-sister Shay Tropnas (right), maintain a memorial to Watson at the North Miami street corner where he was gunned down
Luke Chery, a cousin of Watson's, says the origins of the bad blood may go back to middle school
Steve Satterwhite
Luke Chery, a cousin of Watson's, says the origins of the bad blood may go back to middle school

He recovered. But his brother died the next day.

Nine days later, from a car cruising by Washington Park in North Miami Beach, a passenger opened up with a volley of shots aimed at a group of young people hanging by the B-ball courts. Fourteen-year-old Franz Evering took a bullet in the leg.

Police wondered if some sort of turf war was breaking out. "The natural assumption was that drugs were involved," says North Miami police Cmdr. Bob Lynch. "Maybe something that started in the city of Miami and just came here as families moved north."

Stepp ordered the department's crime suppression team to bring back street info. But info was hard to get. "We had to build those relationships, to prove that we were not the ton-ton macoute," says Stepp, referring to the feared secret police of the Duvalier era in Haiti. "People were afraid of retaliation. We were developing information an inch at a time."

If North Miami's Haitian-American community was tight-lipped prior to May 21, Watson Chery's killing only made it more so. Not just shot down, Chery was mutilated, hit 36times by bullets from three different types of high-caliber weapons, according to police. "People are afraid of talking," explains the Rev. Jean Pierre, pastor at St. James Catholic Church at 540 NW 132nd St. "In Haiti, the police were to be feared."

Shaken by a type of violence not seen in South Florida since the days of the cocaine cowboys in the early 1980s -- and never seen in North Miami -- Stepp says he organized a sit-down at his station house. Summoned to the meeting were police officials from Miami, Miami-Dade County, North Miami Beach, and Aventura; the Broward County Sheriff's Department; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). "It wasn't just a North Miami problem. But we were at the hub of it," says Stepp, a straight-talking cop with an easy smile and a glossy, shaved head.

And the players were new. "Years ago when I worked the street," the assistant chief recalls, "if we were looking for somebody and we stopped a car of Haitian males, they would have their work clothes on, coming from the job. Very respectful. And we knew it wasn't the people we were looking for.

"Now [their] kids are growing up, learning what's happening. And they can be extremely violent."


Violence is not unheard-of in the Haitian community. North Miami police busted up a Haitian-American home-invasion robbery crew a couple of years ago. The murder of two popular Creole-speaking radio broadcasters rattled Little Haiti in 1991. There have been brawls and even a knifing at Miami's largely Haitian Edison Senior High School.

Still in the 25 years since Haitian migrants began to arrive in Miami in large numbers, they've been known mostly for their industry, and for keeping to themselves. South Florida's Haitian population, estimated at 125,000, is considered one of the most law-abiding in the nation. So the notion that the sons of the striving and upwardly mobile were now dressing and acting like Crips and Bloods from Los Angeles's South Central war zone was stunning.

"When you have people shot in the street just for being in the street, this is major," a shaken Lesly Prudent, principal of the North Miami Adult Education Center, says one evening recently, as dozens of students milled around after class. "I see it as a loss of innocence. And because we were so innocent, we are still in shock."

Remarks North Miami police Lt. Ron Simpson: "It's just too bad that a few kids had to become so Americanized."

Rumors of evening

To this day neither the police, the victims, nor their friends are sure what the bloody war in North Miami is about. Although the battle breaks down roughly as a Westside versus Eastside gang fight -- with North Miami Avenue as the dividing line -- the combatants do not swear oaths of allegiance or wear distinctive colors. Gangsta style, yes. But Sharks vs. Jets? Not exactly.

Drugs are involved. Marijuana is everywhere among teenagers, as commonplace among hard-core gangsters and FUBU poseurs as it is in white suburbia. And police suspect older Haitians associated with the notorious drug posse Zoe Pound, which terrorized Little Haiti a few years ago, may be involved as new distribution networks are being established in the wake of the northward migration. In recent months North Miami police and federal agents have seized stashes of heroin and crack cocaine.

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