Haiti: Gang Opens Fire on Christians Protesting Lawless Violence

A Haitian gang opened fire on a church protest in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, killing at least seven people. Video showed bodies lying in the streets, plus several people who appeared to have been taken hostage by the gangsters.

“This shooting is symptomatic of the state’s inability to protect its citizens,” said Gedeon Jean, executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH), a Haiti-based activist group.

Jean said the death toll could be considerably higher than the seven reported so far. Some local media sources reported at least ten fatalities from the shooting.

The attack occurred when about a hundred people marched through an area on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince called Canaan. The community was founded by refugees from the powerful earthquake in 2010, which leveled countless buildings and killed about 220,000 people. Canaan began as a squatter’s camp, but today it is considered a reasonably functional suburb of Port-au-Prince, or perhaps even a city in its own right – the “accidental city,” as NASA dubbed it while measuring its growth with satellite photos.

Like much of Haiti, Canaan was claimed as turf by a violent gang after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise unleashed chaos in 2021. The group that rules Canaan is known as 5 Segonn, or the “Five Seconds Gang.” 

The leader of the Five Seconds Gang, who calls himself “Izo 5 Segonn,” is a focus of the controversy over Haitian gang leaders using monetized social media to finance their activities.

Izo was kicked off YouTube in April even though his rap videos had accumulated over 100,000 subscribers, making him eligible for the “Silver Play Button” award granted to highly successful content creators. The petition to remove him was led by one of the gang’s former kidnapping victims.

“I want to make sure he’s not getting any funds from any of these platforms. That is one of the goals. Obviously, the goal is to get him arrested so that he is not a role model for regular Haitians,” the anonymous victim said in April, fearful of using his real name because the gang might retaliate against his family.

“Such a vicious character responsible for some of the most brutal crimes in Haiti right now deserves no praise, no recognition, and no platform to propagate his influence,” said a statement from Men Anpil, a group backing the petition.

Izo was thrown off Facebook and Instagram last year after posting a video in which he threatened to murder 30 innocent people if any of his “soldiers” were killed by police. Human rights groups say he still uses both platforms under other names.

Izo’s other videos include him boasting about his gang’s huge arsenal of weapons and how they sell the corpses of their victims to make money. He dubbed himself a “Haitian Death God” and compared himself to Jesus Christ because he can give or take life whenever he pleases. The Five Seconds Gang notoriously turned a small village into a sealed maze where their hostages are kept and managed to repel an attack from elite Haitian police units in March 2021 when they tried to raid the maze, capturing a police armored vehicle in the process.

Haitians fed up with gangs, and their government’s inability to control them, have turned to vigilantism. Citizen defense groups known as “Bwa Kale” (“peeled wood” in Haitian Creole, a slang term that can mean male strength or street justice) have appeared in several districts and villages, and made it known they are prepared to use extreme violence against suspected gang members. 

The gangs have struck back against Bwa Kale vigilantes and the gangsters tend to be more vicious and better-armed. The Five Seconds Gang fights savage battles against vigilantes and other gangs to protect and expand its turf.

In October 2022, the Five Seconds Gang actually mounted an amphibious assault on a key industrial area north of Port-au-Prince that it covered, dropping off at least fifty gunmen from speedboats and using a cargo container to block the roads so police reinforcements could not reach the scene.

The Five Seconds Gang has an ally or franchise referred to as a “Canaan Gang” that handles most of its affairs in the accidental city. This group is led by an enigmatic figure known as “Jeff.”

An evangelical leader named Marcorel Zidor, known to his congregants at the Pool of Bethesda church in Port-au-Prince as “Pastor Marco,” held a rally on Saturday during which he told his followers they were “bulletproof” thanks to divine protection and should march against the gangs as David took on Goliath. A hundred of his followers, many of them clad in their signature yellow shirts, armed themselves with clubs and machetes and followed Pastor Marco’s instructions:

They were not in fact bulletproof and the gangs attacked them with heavy weapons, spraying the march with gunfire. Human rights groups criticized Pastor Marco for leading his flock into a slaughter.

“The faithful believed what he was saying, and they took to the streets with machetes and sticks,” said Open Eyes Foundation director Marie Yolene Gilles.

CARDH’s Gedeon Jean demanded a full investigation by what remains of the Haitian government, arguing that the outcome of a clash between gang soldiers with rifles and a troupe of parishioners armed with machetes and “Free Canaan!” chants was sadly predictable.

“Police should have stopped them from going. It’s extremely horrible for the state to let something like this happen,” Jean said.

After months of U.N. calls for an international peacekeeping force to bring the gangs of Haiti under control, Kenya finally stepped forward in late July, offering to send a thousand police officers to “show solidarity with people of African descent around the world.”

The status of Kenya’s mission was in doubt after a ten-member Kenyan “security assessment team” visited Port-au-Prince last week. Sources in Haiti told the Miami Herald that the Kenyans “gave no commitment on whether they will make good on their offer.”

According to these sources, the Kenyans said they would only send their thousand police if other countries came forward and committed a thousand more, and the “static force” envisioned by the Kenyan delegation would do little more than protect “key government infrastructures like the airport, seaports and main roads,” rather than subduing the gangs and protecting the Haitian public.


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