M.O.B. (money over bitches)

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

Still police officials say that while drugs, disputes over turf, insults to girlfriends, and even ethnic pride all figure in this deadly outbreak, the motive for many of the shootings seems to be even simpler, and much more childish. "What I heard is that it started with a fight in junior high," says Cecile St. Pierre, another grieving mother. Her son Jerry, also 19 years old and a friend of Watson Chery's, was gunned down June 27, right in front of his house on NW 3rd Court.

Another 19-year-old friend of Chery's, Luke Lemage, says he too thinks the trouble started in middle school in 1996, when kids from North Miami Middle, at 13105 NE 7th Ave., were sent for summer school to Thomas Jefferson Middle, at 525 NW 147th St., about 25 blocks to the west. Lemage, now a budding music producer and songwriter, was then a student at Thomas Jefferson, called TJ. He recalls some graffiti on school walls that Westside kids saw as proof that visitors from the east didn't show the host school enough respect. Luke Chery, a distant cousin of Watson's and a friend of Lemage's, recalls "a skip thing," a teasing sing-song jump-rope rhyme the girls chanted. "You know, 'North Miami, we're the best...,'" says Chery, bouncing lightly to the remembered beat.

Incredibly, over the years that schoolboy beef festered. When the middle schoolers came together again at North Miami High starting in 1998, some still identified with their Eastside/Westside roots. When, inevitably, hard feelings flared, they came laced with adult-strength testosterone and concerns about image and respect. "People got into fights," says Lemage, who transferred to Miami Norland Senior High School just to get away from the hassles. "It was kid stuff. Nobody knew it was going to get serious."

Ofcr. Andre Mesidor knew Watson Chery, and was one of the first to discover his body
Steve Satterwhite
Ofcr. Andre Mesidor knew Watson Chery, and was one of the first to discover his body
Cecile St. Pierre and her son Jimmy at the spot in front of their house where 19-year-old Jerry (above) was gunned down in a drive-by; Jimmy was wounded in the foot
Steve Satterwhite
Cecile St. Pierre and her son Jimmy at the spot in front of their house where 19-year-old Jerry (above) was gunned down in a drive-by; Jimmy was wounded in the foot


The exact etiology of why a schoolboy dissing match got ratcheted up to a blood feud and then all-out war remains as gauzy as a New Wave film. But the soundtrack to the drama is hard-core gangsta rap, rich in the skewed cinematic romance of Gottis, Glocks, and nihilism, and littered with pop culture icons dying serially to keep it real: Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G., and, just two weeks ago, inexplicably, Jam Master Jay of Run-D.M.C. fame.

Guns propel the action.

Well before dawn on March 8 of this year, thieves tromped on the gas pedal of a stolen 1984 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon and blasted through the rolled-down shutters, steel door, and concrete wall of Martin's Gun and Pawn Shop on South State Road 7 in unincorporated Broward County, near West Hollywood. Once inside, say Broward Sheriff's deputies, at least two people smashed glass display cases and made off with a lethal wish list for wannabe gangsters. Among 33 weapons taken were two SKS assault rifles, an Intratec .9mm machine pistol, a Mini 14 machine gun equipped with a scope and a bipod stand, and more than two dozen handguns.

Left behind at the ravaged pawn shop were a few fingerprints, a cowed guard dog, a wrecked white station wagon, and, inside, the wheelchair of the disabled man the bandits stole it from.

Suddenly, back on the streets, the balance of power in what had been a contest fought with fists and insults got all out of whack. The Eastside had heat. No one was safe.


The major crisis gripping Miami's Haitian community, especially its youth, is identity, according to the experts. "No contemporary immigrant group has confronted more prejudice and discrimination than Haitians in South Florida. Poor, black, Creole-speaking, and once wrongly associated with AIDS, they were never welcomed," says sociologist Alex Stepick, a professor at Florida International University. Often ridiculed by African Americans and Latinos, some Haitian Americans for years shunned their heritage. In a 15-year study of Haitian-American students in Miami, Stepick and his wife, Carol Dutton Stepick, found that these second-generation kids denied knowledge of the Creole language, refused to acknowledge their cultural roots, and "were statistically significantly more embarrassed by their parents" than students of other ethnicities.

While struggling with all of this, their school test scores declined. "Being a black immigrant in South Florida, and especially from a group negatively and unfairly stereotyped, affects Haitian students much more than their individual efforts or characteristics can usually overcome," the researchers found. (The Stepicks' study appears as a chapter in the book Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America, University of California, 2001.)

Miami accountant Shellande "Shay" Tropnas, who is Catherine Chery's half-sister, remembers her days in middle school, and then at Edison Senior High, when "it was a hard thing owning up to being Haitian. They would say, 'They eat cat, they practice voodoo, they smell bad.' Every day was a fight, and you have to end up being harder than the black American group that was already there."

Ironically the eruption of bloodshed this summer is seen by some as evidence that Haitian Americans are claiming their identity. "They are using violence to make an impression," says Prudent, the North Miami principal, who recently asked for and received from the school board $50,000 to hire more security officers at the adult education center. "Before they were modeling [themselves after] African Americans. Now they are saying, 'I am Haitian, and I can be as bad as anyone.'"

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