M.O.B. (money over bitches)

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

But Edwin was mired in the no-pass zone. Tony Toussaint says he banned his son's friends from the house, and warned Edwin that unless he cut his hair and pulled up his pants, he would never get a job. But Edwin didn't seem to care, his father said.

Like Tony Toussaint, Catherine Chery found her son's gangster look an insult to the blue-collar values that had served her so well. She was just 16 when she sailed to Miami on a freighter, and only 19 when Watson was born. But she studied English, landed a clerk's job at the courthouse, and when Watson was seven, began working as a parking lot cashier at Miami International Airport -- a job she still holds.

Watson wasn't a bad kid, his mother insists. He helped out around the house, walked his little sister home from elementary school, and liked to cook scrambled eggs for his two brothers. He was polite and had a good sense of humor.

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

"He seemed tough and hard on the outside, but he was really loving and caring," says Shay Tropnas, Catherine's half-sister, who helped look after Watson and his younger brothers when Catherine went to work. "He marched to his own beat. And he became a fighter because he was always being tested."

His family and friends agree that Watson hated to back down. Although he was only five feet seven inches tall, "He was always the first one to fight," says Luke Lemage, who met Chery at Gratigny Elementary School. "He would fight for his friends even if [his opponent] was bigger. Even I fought him once," says Lemage, a husky six-footer, "when he thought I disrespected his brother. He was just determined not to let anyone get the best of him. In the hood you got to fight to earn your credit or people will mess with you."

Watson's combative nature got him expelled from North Miami High in the tenth grade. For a while he attended Miami Douglas MacArthur North, an alternative school for kids with behavior problems. He started out well. "See this," says his mother, retrieving a two-foot-tall trophy inscribed "Most Improved."

But the improvements didn't last. A dropout at 17, he hung around home during the day, watching music videos and chilling in his room to the sounds of Tupac Shakur and other rappers. At night he went out.

Watson called himself Solo, the Spanish word for alone. His friends called him Walkman because -- without a job or a car -- he was always on foot, tape player and headphones on. With a needle and a bottle of ink, he etched his arm with the letters M.O.B. Catherine Chery knows what that stands for, but she is embarrassed to say it. "Money Over ... Women," she says at first. She hesitates. "No, I'll tell you. But excuse me for what I say. It means Money Over Bitches."

M.O.B., a refrain from a song by Shakur, the gangsta martyr, seems an ironic credo for Watson Chery, whom his friends said seemed to have little interest in the trappings of success. He wore no jewelry, no expensive clothes, and seemed content to cadge $5 or $10 from his mother.

Catherine says she cannot explain her son's tattoo. But she hated it, just as she hated his braids, the way his pants drooped low off his hips, and the hip-hop street slang he used. Calling his friends "nigga," like some ghetto hoodlum? That did not reflect the behavior she'd tried to teach her children.

If Watson Chery and his friend Jerry St. Pierre owned guns or stashed drugs in the house, their mothers say they didn't see them. And they looked. Like most Haitian parents, Catherine and Cecile believed in tight supervision. Catherine refused to have a portable telephone in the house, in order to decrease conversations outside of her hearing. Both mothers say they searched their sons' rooms regularly. "He didn't have a gun," St. Pierre says of Jerry. "He say, 'My hand is my gun. Guns are for chickens.'"

But Edwin Toussaint had guns. "If I had known what he had, I would have turned him in," Tony Toussaint says sadly one afternoon as he stands in his driveway. Recalling that humiliating day in July when he was dragged from his bed and handcuffed by police, he shakes his head in disgust and anger. "We were hard on him," he says of his son, "trying to get him to do right. Now I realize how much danger we were in. He could have threatened me. And if those guns were inside, we might have died from the police."


Near the end, Watson Chery told friends he wanted to change his life. He cut his hair. He underwent four $300 laser surgery treatments -- paid for by his mother -- to have his M.O.B. tattoo removed. He talked about getting his GED. He applied for a job at Home Depot. He asked Luke Chery, his cousin, to take him along to the evangelical Protestant church he attended.

"The week before he died, he stopped by my house and talked about going into law enforcement, flying airplanes, or the army," remembers his aunt, Shay Tropnas. "I think he wanted to show people that he could be something better."

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