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
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
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
Tony Toussaint (top right) opens the repaired front gate busted down by the North Miami SWAT team in a July raid in which his son Edwin was arrested -- cops found these lethal weapons hidden in a crawlspace under the house (top left)
Steve Satterwhite
Tony Toussaint (top right) opens the repaired front gate busted down by the North Miami SWAT team in a July raid in which his son Edwin was arrested -- cops found these lethal weapons hidden in a crawlspace under the house (top left)
Arrested during SWAT team raids on their homes and held on federal weapons and drug charges are three Eastsiders, Max Daniel (top), his brother Richard, and Edwin Toussaint
Arrested during SWAT team raids on their homes and held on federal weapons and drug charges are three Eastsiders, Max Daniel (top), his brother Richard, and Edwin Toussaint
In a home videotape from the funeral, the body of Watson Chery rests in peace. In his bedroom the family keeps a shrine: a teddy bear, a Bible, a glass of water, his favorite Kool-Aid and cologne. Cousin Luke Chery displays a tribute T-shirt
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
In a home videotape from the funeral, the body of Watson Chery rests in peace. In his bedroom the family keeps a shrine: a teddy bear, a Bible, a glass of water, his favorite Kool-Aid and cologne. Cousin Luke Chery displays a tribute T-shirt

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.


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.

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.

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."


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.'"

For teens looking to prove themselves, gangs are one way to go. "Absolutely unsurprising in the immigrant American experience," comments University of Miami anthropologist J. Bryan Page, chairman of the Center for Haitian Studies. "The pattern is for young people to reject their parents' ways, move into a truculent adolescent mode, and reflect the behavior they see around them. These kids were getting bullied, and they found each other."


After Watson Chery was assassinated, all hell broke loose. On May 24, another 19-year-old with Westside connections, Ralph Altidor, was shot in the arm and lung outside his apartment in North Miami Beach. Five days after that, on May 29, Nathaniel Henry, Jr., also 19, parked his car and started walking down the 400 block of NW 129th Street, heading for the house of a friend. Henry -- also a TJ alum and one of the few non-Haitians among the teenage players -- says he did not see his assailants. But when he awoke in the hospital, he had six bullet wounds, from one shoulder to his legs. When he left the hospital two weeks later, he had a steel rod and two screws in his left leg and a guess about what happened.

"Middle school shit," supposes Henry, who is African American. "We had a fight in middle school and we thought that was it. I don't chill with them niggas [Watson Chery et al., but since [the shooters] seen me, they said, 'Fuck it, let's get him [too].'"

Then it was Jerry St. Pierre's turn. Like his pal Watson, St. Pierre was a high school dropout who got hung up in the gangsta-style ghetto while trying to figure out his life. To his mother's dismay, he wore his hair in dreadlocks, decorated himself with homemade tats, and prowled around in low-rider pants. When he went out, he snapped gold caps on his front teeth.

His work record was spotty. And he had minor scrapes with the law. But Cecile St. Pierre, 62 years old, says the youngest of her four children was no ogre. "He was my baby," says St. Pierre, who moved her family here from Brooklyn after the death of her husband.

Cecile St. Pierre's baby borrowed his sister Myriam Curry's car one night in June, went out for a while, and when he returned he was shaken. "He was sweating, stressed out," says Curry, 33, a registered nurse and mother of two. "But he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. 'Don't worry,' he said, and patted my head."

The next night, June 27, Jerry St. Pierre was standing outside his house with his older brother Jimmy, age 25, about 11:00 p.m., when a dark blue minivan crept down NW 3rd Court from 137th Street. "I thought it was going to pull into the driveway next door," recalls Jimmy St. Pierre. But just as the van was about to pass their house, it suddenly stopped, the sliding door flew open, and at least three men got out, handguns blazing.

In the instant before his brother pushed him to start running, Jimmy St. Pierre says he looked directly at one of the shooters. "His eyes were glowing, like he was possessed," Jimmy says. "And he looked scared."

Despite taking a bullet in his left foot, Jimmy made it to a friend's house around the corner. But Jerry died right by the front gate.

Although he was an obedient child at home, Cecile St. Pierre says she knows her son had another life outside on the street. "You can't die without God's permission," says St. Pierre, a cafeteria worker at North Miami Elementary School who wears gold-framed glasses and speaks as if she has been struck numb by her loss. "I got respect at home, but when they out, you don't know them business."

From a chair on the front porch she stares at the spot where her son died. "My life now is coffee and cigarettes," she says, dry-eyed. "That's all. I'm the loser. I lost my son, period."


For most area residents and their political leaders, the first few deaths were easy to ignore. With their dreadlocked hair, tattoos, oversized clothes, and underdeveloped work ethic, the teenage casualties were thug-life poster boys. And outside of their families and friends, no one seemed to care that they were gone. Other drive-bys, taking place with increasing frequency, got scant mention in the daily press.

But many in the Haitian-American community had begun to take notice. Along NE 6th Avenue, lined with three- and four-story apartment buildings, people were so afraid of becoming collateral damage that they refused to hang outside and socialize as usual in the evening. Botanicas sold potions designed to keep children from harm. Community leaders such as the Rev. Jean Pierre of St. James Catholic Church warned that parents were failing to discipline their children, were even afraid of them. "It's a very serious situation," says Pierre. "If we don't take drastic measures, we are going to lose our young. The kids are going wild."

Then came the fireworks of the Fourth of July. The big explosion that day was a 70-round volley of gunfire; the drive-by was aimed at a group of teenagers standing in front of an apartment building near Victoria Park in North Miami Beach. Seven people were wounded, including North Miami High School senior Emmanuel Robiou, age 17. He died of his wounds three weeks later.

But a fusillade earlier in the evening claimed a life right on the spot, and it was that killing that finally mobilized the community. Thirteen-year-old Gregory Delphin, who was to be in the seventh grade at North Miami Middle School this year, was riding his bike near the corner of NE 145th Street and 7th Court when he got raked with bullets apparently intended for someone else. "He was an innocent victim," says Stepp, the North Miami assistant chief.

"I will never ever see my brother's smile again," Gregory's sister, Gina Cricout, told a handful of citizens who turned out for a July 19 town meeting on the growing gang war, according to a news report. "I'm just reaching out, asking everybody ... feel my pain, feel my mom's pain!"

Strangely, at that same meeting, Mayor Joe Celestin stepped to the microphone and offered: "We're just trying to make sure it doesn't get out of control." The dead kids' parents looked at him in wonder.

Celestin, a 44-year-old Republican, has made no secret of his ambitions. Becoming the first Haitian-American mayor in Miami-Dade County is not the capstone of his political career. He has mentioned the state senate, even the governorship. So an unseemly crime wave is pretty inconvenient.

"We were always so humble, so reluctant to get involved with shootings and guns," rails Celestin. "But these kids, born here, are taking for granted what this country has given them. This is gang rivalry. And we are not going to tolerate that."

Meanwhile the police were scrambling to catch up. Less than three months after starting in North Miami as police chief, Gwendolyn Boyd-Savage found herself hip-deep in a crisis she could not have imagined at one of her previous commands -- in Pritchett, Alabama. "Don't be imprisoned in your home," she pleaded with Haitian parents. "You can't allow criminals to intimidate you. This is not the Mafia we're dealing with. These are children."

The chief ordered a Creole-language telephone hotline to be set up. The department sent out press releases offering a reward of $26,000 for information leading to a conviction in Gregory's death. Boyd-Savage herself went on a Creole radio talk show to beg for information. "We need your help," the chief implored Haitian listeners. "Nou bezwen èd ou," translated Herntz Phanord, host of the program Haiti Antenne Plus on WLQY-AM (1320).

And the results were astounding. Number of calls to the radio station: zero. Number of useful, noncrank calls to the hotline: zero.

"I'm baffled," says Boyd-Savage, a 48-year-old African American. "These are street thugs trying to be gangsters. Why aren't parents outraged?"


As frustrated as they were about getting the silent treatment from the citizenry, police did finally get a break, thanks to a confidential informant (C.I.) and some slick undercover detective work. Apparently not happy with their kill rate, the novice executioners hoped to convert some of their weapons from semiautomatic to full auto, so they'd fire faster. The conversion process involves filing down or removing a sear,a catch in the gunlock. But without any experience in illegal firearm mechanics, the shooters turned to someone who might know. And that guy turned out to be an undercover cop.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court by federal prosecutors, the C.I. and some undercovers were amassing a detailed dossier on other activities, including the sale of crack cocaine, marijuana, and weapons that sounded a lot like those taken in the Broward County theft in March.

Finally the police decided they could wait no longer. On July 25 -- acting on information they gathered on their own, Boyd-Savage emphasizes -- a task force of 60 local, state, and federal cops rose early and strapped on their own heat. Splitting into two teams, the officers conducted simultaneous raids on two dwellings just blocks apart. One was a ground-floor, two-bedroom unit at Casa Blue Apartments, 13695 NE Third Ct. Busting down the door, an ATF SWAT team tossed a concussion grenade inside and rousted from their beds two sleeping brothers: Max Daniel, 19, and Richard, 18. Under Max's mattress officers found a handgun. Nearby were several bags of crack.

The North Miami police SWAT team led the other assault on a neat white brick house at 1450 NW 137th St. At 5:30 a.m. they ripped open a wrought-iron gate to the porch, crashed through the front door, lobbed their own concussion grenade onto the white tiled dining room floor, screamed "On the floor, motherfuckers!" and within seconds had nine members of the vertiginous Toussaint family bound and helpless in plastic handcuffs.

Lucy Toussaint, 21, remembers seeing a masked man with a gun looking down at her, and even with the mask she recognized the face. "Belcher!" she exclaimed, meaning Ofcr. Tim Belcher, who was once the police department's program officer at North Miami Middle School. "What are you doing?"

Belcher and the other raiders were there to arrest Lucy's 20-year-old brother, Edwin Toussaint, an Eastside associate of the Daniel brothers. Edwin's nickname: "Funny E." In the Toussaints' back yard, police removed a single cement block from the entrance to a crawlspace under the house and found six guns, including an assault rifle, which they said was the same type that killed Gregory Delphin.

In a 10-count federal indictment returned by the grand jury in July, Max and Richard Daniel were charged with a variety of felonies, including the sale of crack cocaine, marijuana, and firearms to the C.I. Toussaint was charged with one count only: conspiring to sell firearms.

At a July 30 detention hearing, federal prosecutors say Toussaint admitted that he was planning to sell three of the six weapons found at his house for $1500. He also said he was trying to convert the weapons to full auto, and added that he was a regular user of marijuana. He has two prior convictions for pot possession.

Police rounded up three other men that morning on state charges. North Miami residents Raphael Goris Pratt, a 20-year-old Eastsider, was held on an outstanding traffic warrant. Odley Alcy, 19, recently shot in the shoulder during a drive-by a block from his house on NE 141st Street, was pulled in on burglary and aggravated assault charges in connection with a June 19 incident at the home of his former girlfriend, Junia Augustin. Police say Alcy threatened to kill Augustin and her mother, and was carrying a handgun.

The third man grabbed that day was Nathaniel Henry, Jr., the survivor of the May 29 drive-by. He's a Westsider. Picked up on a burglary charge, Henry says that while being interviewed at the North Miami police station, he caught glimpses of the other five men -- the Daniel brothers, Toussaint, Alcy, and Pratt. But, he says, he did not consider them his enemies. "We say, 'What's up?' We got no beef," he explains.

Alcy and Pratt were freed on bond. Charges against Henry -- accused of ransacking a North Miami home of $20,000 worth of jewelry and clothing -- were dropped. But Toussaint and the Daniels are being held without bond in the federal lockup in downtown Miami.

As of November 11, however, no one has been charged with any of the killings. And the gunfire has subsided, although not stopped completely. On November 2 someone pumped high-caliber rounds into 21-year-old Rosemond Erome, dropping him dead on the sidewalk at NE 5th Avenue at 174th Street in North Miami Beach. Police suspect the killing is related to the summer outbreak.

Nonetheless, they are also confident that major players have been taken off the street. Ballistic evidence is in, and Assistant Chief Stepp says murder charges are imminent.

Still, no one is certain the war is over.


Traditionally, Haitian parents don't spare the rod. But in this country the disconnect between Haitian-born parents and their Americanized kids can grow as wide as the Straits of Florida. "I get calls all the time from [mothers and fathers] who want me to discipline their children," says Ofcr. Andre Mesidor, 62 years old, one of only five Creole-speaking members of the 120-officer North Miami police force. "They say, 'Arrest my child; he won't obey me.' Then I have to explain that police can't do that."

By age 18 or 19, however, children turn into adults. They're often out of their parents' reach even if they do still sleep in the next room. At that age, most kids won't take a parental beating.

"Second-generation immigrant children may also use their greater knowledge of American culture as a tool against their less-informed parents," says Alex Stepick, the FIU sociologist. "They may say that a grade of F means 'fine,' that physical discipline against them will bring the police and cause the parents to be thrown in jail."

"The kids know the law better than the parents," adds Reverend Pierre of St. James Catholic Church. "They tell their parents they will call DCF [Department of Children & Families] if they hit them. Haitian parents love their children dearly. But they are so busy chasing the dollar, working two jobs, they are not home, not getting involved in the community."

At Notre Dame d'Haiti in Little Haiti, associate pastor Reginald Jean-Mary sees the frustration of parents weekly. They have high aspirations for their kids, he says. But during Holy Communion, "parents come in holding up pictures of their kids who are in jail, doing drugs, leaving the house. They are shamed; these misdeeds are the shame of the family."


Ernest and Catherine Chery have never met Tony and Maricienne Toussaint. But the couples live just a mile apart, and have much in common. All four were born in Haiti and came to Miami in 1979, where they met and married. Each couple has four children. Each has worked hard, sometimes holding down two jobs, in order to move their families out of tiny rented apartments in Little Haiti to comfortable, $90,000 single-family homes in leafy North Miami. Both are paying mortgages.

And for such couples, North Miami is not the last stop. Many Haitian families have their sights set on Broward County -- Miramar or Hollywood, for example. Still by most measures, these two couples are exemplars of immigrant success.

Yet each couple was also bedeviled by the behavior of their eldest sons. "If I am a chef," says Edwin Toussaint's father, Tony, who is 48 years old and the head cook at Sundays on the Bay in Key Biscayne, "then I want him to be a lawyer or a doctor, to pass me."

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.

"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."

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.

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.

After the song plays twice, Catherine offers her reaction to its language. "I don't like it," she says. "And I didn't like Watson's hair, or his tattoos, or the way he wore his pants.

"He didn't want to be a momma's boy. He wasn't afraid. He told me, 'Fear is just a four-letter word.'"


North Miami's summer of violence has taken a heavy toll. After their eldest sons were arrested, the parents of Max and Richard Daniel fell behind in the rent and they, along with their two other children, were evicted from their apartment. They could not be located for comment.

Odiles Petithomme, 50, the father of Odley Alcy, seems more pained by the failure of his son to find a job than he is by the colon cancer that has made him unable to work as a welder. Postal worker Nathaniel Henry, 51, expresses the same exasperation over the hang-out attitude of his son, Nathaniel Henry, Jr. Both sons were wounded in drive-bys.

Haunted by the memory of her son laying dead outside her front door, Cecile St. Pierre is thinking of moving. Tony Toussaint, who rarely visits his jailed son Edwin, keeps busy with work and church.

In the Chery household, six months after Watson's murder, grief remains palpable. Ernest Chery is too depressed to work. Watson's teenage brothers, Wilson and Wendell, and his sister Chelsea, age 7, are allowed out of the house only for school and church. Catherine Chery, the family's sole breadwinner, still holds down the cashier's job she's had for 11 years, but sleeplessness and worry have made her look older than 38.

The family has also been taunted by anonymous telephone calls, including one two days after Watson's death that may have come from his killers. "Where is your son now?" a female asked Catherine Chery in Creole as others in the background laughed. "Li pa kapab fè qwo nèg koulye a." He's not such a big guy now.

Still Catherine has lost none of the feistiness and willful determination that took her from a penniless refugee to a home-owning U.S. citizen. Since her son's murder she has been outspoken in urging police to bring charges in the case, and shows up to offer support to others touched by violence. On the scene the night Jerry St. Pierre was shot down, Stepp says that Chery was so vocal she was nearly arrested for inciting the crowd and interfering with police.

Nonetheless Chery is grateful for kindness shown her by police investigators, especially Det. Dennis Stemen. She is harshly critical of Celestin, however, who quickly and publicly branded Watson as a gang member. "He had a M.O.B. tattoo. That means the mob," Celestin told New Times. "If your son is named Jean and he comes home one day and says he wants to be called Top Dog, you need to be concerned."

Chery responded in a letter to Celestin that Shay Tropnas helped her compose: "I voted for you because I believed that with you in office our concerns would no longer be swept under the rug. On May 21, 2002, my 19-year-old son was wiped off the face of the earth as if he never existed ...

"I refuse to allow the pages to be closed on him and stamped 'Gang-related.' I want answers."


Watson Chery is buried in Dade Memorial Park on Opa-locka Boulevard. The family goes there several times a week to mourn, and Ernest Chery regularly spends most every Sunday there, sometimes sleeping by the grave.

The family also maintains another memorial at NW 126th Street and 5th Avenue, the corner where he fell. Catherine frequently replenishes the bouquets of flowers, even though they are usually run over by a car and flattened suspiciously soon after she leaves.

And spray-painted on the bullet-scarred pavement, but fading, are his friends' tributes to Watson:

Thug life.

Westside

Love til ya can't feel me.

Homie.

Nigga, I love you.

M.O.B.

R.I.P.

endit

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