Inside the USAID-headquarters-turned-courthouse in Port-au-Prince, the case against former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was being heard, in a trial unlikely to bring justice to the hundreds of thousands killed and tortured by him and his father François.
Vexed by the circus show of judges and defense lawyers, I fled the building and hailed a collective taxicab. The driver asked my nationality. When I told him, he said, “If you don’t mind, I want to ask you something. Are there all these children sleeping in the streets and under bridges in your country?”
Just at that moment, he turned a corner and almost ran over the body of a teenager, arms thrown out like a startled baby’s, lying in a pool of blood. I spun around in the seat to look. Another passenger, more accustomed to gritty daily reality than I, looked at me strangely. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
Two trucks full of UN occupation troops and another of Haitian police next to the body raised my suspicion. Both parties have been responsible for many acts of violence. The UN force, present since 2004, is officially mandated with restoring “a secure and stable environment.” Yet it has done anything but. UN troops have been accused of killings, arbitrary arrests, sexual assault, and other human rights violations since their 2004 arrival. The force has also been responsible for the death of more than 8,000 people from cholera, which arrived in Haiti in the bodies of the troops, whose excrement was then dumped in the Mirebalais River. In response to a lawsuit by victims claiming compensation, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon claimed legal immunity.
As for the Haitian police, it has also been involved in many unlawful attacks and killings. The police violations, and the lack of accountability for them, are part of a growing wave of abuses against the citizenry and the constitution by the government of Michel Martelly.
I jumped out of the cab and ran to the scene. The boy had been shot in his skull and eye socket. The part of his T-shirt that was not yet covered with blood still flowing from the holes was sparkling white. His mother or sister had recently hand-washed that T-shirt with care.
A policeman told me the boy was shot by a “bandit.” I began asking onlookers and street merchants if they saw what had happened. But two policemen followed me and so no one witnessed anything, knew anything. As I continued my investigation up a dirt alleyway, one cop asked me, “Where are you going?” “Just walking,” I said. “Don’t you need accompaniment?” he replied. The two men laughed.
At a bend in the alleyway, I ducked behind a tin fence before the police caught up with me and asked a man welding without protective glasses what he had observed. He said the police had driven up and then the shots rang out.
Gloved corpse-slingers arrived. Before they threw the child into a litter, they searched his red nylon shorts pockets and found them empty. As for the assertion that he might have been robbed and killed by a bandit, I would have made a bet of any size that those pockets had been empty that morning when he left his house, as well; emaciated boys from the Bicentennaire area do not tend to circulate with riches. I would bet as much that he was not involved in any crime; plastic flip-flops do not make good getaway shoes.
What would identify him from among the thousands of other poor Black youth who have died early and uselessly in Haiti, as in many other countries, shot down in a crime that no one would ever investigate – all the more so if the crime was committed by the state, as under Duvalier and Martelly, or foreign troops? How would his sister or mother, or others who loved him, ever know his fate?
The death of human beings in low-income Black areas all over the world passes without notice or justice. In a global division of human value – and of resources and power – each is one more worthless body in a worthless life in a worthless neighborhood or country.
By the time I left the scene, two ambulances, two UN trucks, and two Haitian police trucks had gathered. The officials hustled importantly between the vehicles, talking to each other. No one paid any attention to the blood-drenched form. More public resources were certainly being dedicated to this boy at that moment than throughout his whole life. Now, however, they were too late to be of any use to him.
Haiti has one of the lowest crime rates in the Caribbean and Latin America. Nevertheless, the foreign press has, over the years, drummed the trope that that country’s boys and men are bloody-thirsty savages, making peace and stability impossible. Last month, for example, the Daily Mail ran an article stating: “at night the lawless terror takes hold and any semblance of civilisation is abandoned… As day turns to dusk, three [UN] soldiers in blue helmets and sunglasses sit nervously atop their vehicle eyeing the squalor, clutching guns tightly to their chests in case they come under attack. Theirs is a thankless task…”
Walking back home from the scene, I got entangled in a wave of little children leaving kindergarten with their parents. They were a sea of blue shorts, blue pinafores, and blue hair ribbons.
What country would they inherit? Which of them would be blown away by a government that acts with impunity?
And which would grow up to be freedom fighters for a country in which tout moun se moun, everyone is someone, and everyone’s son or brother – and daughter or sister – has worth?
What country would they create?