Folks in “Little Haiti” Reflect On President Moïse’s Assassination, One Week On

In the early morning of July 7, Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his residence just outside the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince. 

Moïse had not been a popular president. 

He won the office by a slim margin in the November 2016 election, in which only 21% of voters showed up to the polls. Since taking office, Moïse had faced sustained calls to resign. Instead, when his term ended in February, he refused to step down amidst massive protests over rapid inflation, gas shortages, blackouts, and rising crime with some demonstrations numbering in the thousands.   

But in the days following his execution-style slaying inside the presidential compound, as he slept alongside his wife, Martine, with their three children just down the hall, many Haitians around the world, including New York City, are expressing their shock, anger, and grief.

“They murdered our president: this is a very serious, horrible crime,” Solange, a Haitian-American living in Brooklyn who withheld her last name, said to Gothamist/WNYC in both French and Creole. “And our people won’t move on because we do not know who is really behind it.” 

Moïse was shot 12 times by heavily armed assailants. His wife was also shot and wounded but is recovering from her injuries. The Moïse children, Jomarlie, Jovenel Jr., and Joverlein, reportedly survived by hiding from the gunmen. No one other than Moïse and his wife were injured in the attacks.

When it comes to healing, Solange spoke of the history of resilience within the Haitian community. 

“It’s up to us to hold the people behind this crime accountable,” she said. “We cannot create an environment where people can come into the country to kill someone like that, someone who has a family, children and a wife.” 

This week, U.S. officials arrived in Haiti to assist in the investigation behind the president’s murder. So far, there have been three U.S. citizens of Haitian origin who have been detained by authorities as suspects in the case, with 21 people detained overall.  

New York is home to the second largest Haitian population in the United States, second only to Florida. Brooklyn has more than 90,000 Haitian-American residents and, in 2018, the New York City Council passed a resolution designating Flatbush, “Little Haiti.”

And, as in Haiti, the president had his supporters—including Jean Petit in Flatbush. 

“I loved him with all my heart,” Petit said to Gothamist in French. “He was a man who was serving the community and a true man of the people.” 

Yet some Haitian Americans in Brooklyn, regardless of their stances, have taken a vow of silence when it comes to speaking to the media about politics. Professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and founding director of the CUNY Haitian Studies Institute Jean Eddy Saint Paul acknowledged that phenomenon and believes it to be a mix of both caution and fear. 

“We in the community, we don’t know who really is a journalist and who are people getting paid by the government to spread propaganda,” Saint Paul said. “The media’s reporting on Haiti has always been out of context.” 

An example Saint Paul used: while the country’s flailing economy is always on the news, positive stories never are. Where, he asks, are the stories about, “the only successful anti-slavery revolution in history that took place in Haiti.”

“We fought and beat back an empire,” Saint Paul added. “But we never get that narrative shown on TV or on a mainstream platform.” 

But back in Little Haiti, some, like Solange, have decided that speaking out about her home country’s political stability is the best way to move forward. 

“This is just like what happened to [Jean-Jacques] Dessalines and we need to have our justice,” she said, referring to the assassination of Haiti’s first head of state, and leader of the slave revolution, in 1806. “It’s happened before, but we will not allow this to happen again.”

Joseph Gedeon reported this story for the Gothamist/WNYC’s Race & Justice Unit. If you have a tip, some data, or a story idea, email him at jgedeon@wnyc.org or reach out on Twitter @JGedeon1.

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