Armed villagers in Haiti strike back gang members with brutal street justice
Haiti.- Port-au-Prince, the largest neighborhood in Haiti’s capital, is facing a dire situation as access is blocked by old cars, used tires, and barbed wire. Armed gang members have been terrorizing the area, committing robberies, rapes, and murders while the weak or corrupt police and officials have done little to intervene.
In response to the lack of action from authorities, the people have taken matters into their own hands, leading to a brutal wave of vigilante justice sweeping through Haiti. The movement, known as “bwa kale,” meaning “bare wood” in Haitian Creole, signifies the dominance and power of masculinity in street slang.
Since the movement began in April, the vigilantes have killed at least 164 people, according to the United Nations. Suspected gang members are subjected to stonings, mutilations, decapitations, and burnings, often while they are still alive. The violence is driven by a sense of self-preservation and a desire to protect their communities from the control of the estimated 80% of gangs in Port-au-Prince.
Banners expressing frustration with kidnappings and calls for unity are displayed throughout the city, and barricades similar to those in Turgeau have been erected in many neighborhoods. Residents in Turgeau, a community in the hills of Port-au-Prince, stand guard at makeshift barriers, conducting checks on those seeking entry, including verifying identification, searching bags, checking for gang tattoos, and demanding explanations of their purpose in the area.
While gang-related killings and kidnappings have reportedly decreased due to the bwa kale movement, human rights activists express concerns about the gruesome violence and the potential harm to innocent individuals.
One resident, Weslander Al Cégaire, supports the movement but acknowledges that innocent people may suffer the consequences. He recounts the story of his cousin who was killed by bwa kale participants while riding on a motorcycle, mistaken for a gang member.
Turgeau has been targeted by a gang known as the “5 Seconds” due to its reputation for swift killings. The bwa kale movement gained momentum in Turgeau after the gang’s deadly attack in late April, which resulted in numerous deaths and widespread destruction.
More than 1,630 people were killed, injured, or kidnapped in Haiti in the first quarter of the year, marking a nearly 30% increase compared to the previous quarter. In April alone, over 600 deaths were reported, adding to the already high murder rate.