J'ouvert, 2016
Revelers gather on Empire Boulevard for this year’s J’ouvert celebration

As early as 2:00am Monday, the West Indian Day Carnival commenced, with thousands of revelers flocking to Crown Heights and Flatbush to partake in J’Ouvert, the official-unofficial pregame for the annual West Indian Day Parade.

NYPD 71st Precinct

Despite the NYPD’s promise of increased security, at least five shootings and one reported stabbing occurred amid the festivities, with two fatalities; one man shot in the chest and a woman– a student at St. John’s college– was shot in the head. The shootings occurred around 4:00am, Monday, along Empire Boulevard near Prospect/Lefferts Gardens. At least one stabbing and four others were injured in separate shootings– one a 72-year-old woman who was shot while sitting on a park bench.

Two more were reportedly injured in an unrelated incident, when a car collided with motorcyclists.

The NYPD was prepared for the violence, increasing its presence as early as Friday morning, when 35 alleged gang members were arrested in a raid in Crown Heights. Apart from virtually doubling their numbers, the NYPD  also made use of 200 floodlight towers, an additional 42 surveillance cameras, and ShotSpotter, a gunshot locator and detection service.

Both the Mayor and the NYPD insisted that the safety of the event is a “shared responsibility between the NYPD and the public.”

Still, despite beefed up security at J’Ouvert and the calls for no violence, some participants at the early morning party say that an overall “hands-off” and laissez-faire attitude by NYPD contributed to a poorly monitored situation.

Crowd gathers to watch performers at the 2016 J’Ouvert Celebration, minutes before a shooting at around 4:00am

“People were allowed to walk around with liquor openly on the street and the cops were being told not to say anything,” said one participant at J’Ouvert. “You let a bunch of people partying walk around 4:00 in the morning drinking, what do you think is going to happen? The same thing that would happen an Irish Day Parade.”

Undoubtedly, clashes do often accompany alcohol and large gatherings and should be monitored closely.

But there has never been a shooting at The St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In fact, no other parade in the city has a record and expectation of shootings and stabbings surrounding its event production, aside from the one that takes place on Labor Day in Brooklyn.

For example:

  • In 2015, two people were killed during last year’s J’Ouvert, including an aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
  • In 2014, one was killed and four were wounded along the parade route.
  • In 2013, a man was shot in the leg and a woman was grazed in the head, but both are expected to survive. A slashing victim also suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
  • In 2012, two people were shot and two were fatally stabbed during the early evening of the parade’s conclusion.
  • In 2011, a shooting a few blocks off the route left two police officers wounded and three people dead– two people were fatally stabbed.

And the blotter of gun violence goes on and on…

Following Monday’s crime incidents, Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news briefing hinted at canceling J’Ouvert: “All options are on the table,” de Blasio said regarding the future of the pre-parade celebration. “I’m not going to go into detail until we do a full review.”

However, City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who represents East Flatbush and parts of Prospect Heights, said last year that ending the West Indian American Day Parade and any celebrations associated with it won’t necessarily end the violence. He and other elected officials of the area say the real problem is guns and the easy access to them.

Gun violence remains the problem, whether there is a parade or not, he said. “We want to deal with this in a realistic way.”

Bed-Stuy resident Tai Allen agrees that stopping the parade is not the solution, but that J’Ouvert– where the majority of the violence takes place– might need to end: “[It’s] very important to note the J’Ouvert organizers are not part or partnered with the West Indian Day organizers,” said Allen, “and maybe that is the issue… It is the change in J’Ouvert that is our primary culprit. It needs a revamp, redo, regress to nil. But Carnival is still the gem it was during my dad’s hey day.”

What do you think? Should J’Ouvert and the West Indian Day Parade be canceled until there is a viable solution for ending the violence? Perhaps the city should end just J’Ouvert? Or perhaps you feel both celebrations deserve to continue as we look at addressing violence on a larger scale.

Take this poll and let us know!

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*This story was edited for accuracy on 9/7/16, 5:47pm 

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Edward Olean

Edward Olean is a writer and designer from Massachusetts. Since graduating in 2015 from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Ed has been freelancing in design and writing, and maintains illustration...

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  1. People die every year in connection with this event. We now accept it as collateral damage. We need a wake up call and at a minimum we should end this J’Overt nonsense! It is not worth people’s lives!

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