M.O.B. (money over bitches)

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

But even as Watson vowed to make something of himself, he also revealed a troubling streak of fatalism. He told his mother he was memorizing the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil ..."

In early May Watson accompanied Luke Chery to a church youth service in Pompano Beach, and during the evening Luke saw a young man who "seemed to be lost" undergo a spiritual awakening. "He started shaking at one point," says Chery, also 19 years old, a second-year student at Miami-Dade Community College. "He felt something. He told me later, 'I know for a fact that I am a man of God.'"

On May 19 Luke picked up Lemage and Watson for Sunday services at his church. But when they arrived at the First Christian Church by Faith, on NW 119th Street at 8th Avenue, Lemage decided he did not want to go in because his hair is braided, and he knew the older Haitians inside would give him a hard time. "They don't want us to look like that," Lemage says.

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

So Lemage stayed in the car, and Watson -- even though his hair was cut short -- kept him company. "We really bonded, talking about life, the old days," recalls Lemage. "He told me he had a dream that impressed him. He said, 'I want to get my act straight.' He had reached that age, where he wanted to grow up, be a man."

The two also discussed music, and Lemage played a couple of CDs on which he had recorded some beats, or rhythm tracks. And suddenly Chery asked Lemage if he wanted to do a song about somebody dying. "It was his idea," says Lemage. "He said, 'Do a death song. You can do it about me.'"

Act of contrition

Watson Chery's murder chilled his friends. They don't believe he was involved in any of the earlier shootings, they say. But with Chery's death came rumors that more drive-bys were coming. "He was like the twelfth one hit, and the word was that it wasn't going to stop till they got 40," according to Lemage.

Now everyone is edgy. Many kids won't walk anywhere around North Miami. If they don't have a car and can't get a ride, they don't go. At home they watch for slow-moving cars going by. They sense danger. "It's like somebody is playing a game, and you don't know if you're in it," says Lemage.

Watson Chery's funeral was held at St. James Catholic Church on June 1. "It was crowded. Sad. Lot of people crying," says Luke Chery, one of two eulogists. He remembered Watson as the big brother he didn't have, and recalled his sense of humor and outgoing personality. "We were always clowning together, cracking jokes," says Chery. "We'd be riding in the car, he would, like, flick us in the head [with his fingers] and then look away. He was playful."

The other eulogy was given by Tropnas, Watson's aunt, who read a typed, two-page tribute she'd written out. She recalled changing his diapers, taking him for his first haircut, drilling him on his multiplication tables, even talking to him "about the birds and bees."

"Sure, he got into his share of fistfights, but I mean he was a fighter at heart," Tropnas told 300 mourners. "Fearless. He lived fearlessly."

Outside the church plainclothes police officers videotaped the crowd from an unmarked car.

After the funeral Lemage decided to do something with a melody that he'd been carrying around in his head since the night he and Watson sat talking in the car. He wrote some lyrics. At Miami Norland Senior High, his alma mater, Lemage found a singer, Camille Harper. At a recording studio, he paid $50 for two hours. And with his prerecorded rhythm track in the background, Lemage and Harper made a CD. He gave copies to Watson's parents and several friends.

On an afternoon a few weeks ago Catherine and Ernest Chery play the song on a portable boombox that sits on a nightstand in their bedroom. The scene seems surreal. Ernest, who is 45 years old, kneels on the floor, bowing his head to the neatly made bed, as Catherine, weeping softly, slumps in the doorway. Above the hip-hop backbeat, Harper's voice soars into an infectious lament filled with street slang that sounds raw and foreign to the lost son's Creole-speaking parents.

The chorus of the song, called "Homie," goes like this:

I can't believe the niggas killed my homie;

Now you've gone, you got me feeling lonely;

We had some bigger dreams ever since we were shorties,

Now I'm screaming, God damn I miss my homie.

Among the several verses are references to Watson's days at Gratigny Elementary School and Thomas Jefferson Middle School, along with these couplets:

You know the hood shook up the day you died;

And that day, your momma, she cried.

When you was around,

You kept everybody laughing.

You was a boy

But the streets forced you to be a man.

Cops won't do shit,

So now it's up to us.

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