Early Monday morning, near the route designated for J'ouvert—a predawn carnival procession in Crown Heights that precedes the West Indian Day parade and draws thousands of partiers doused in baby powder—bursts of gunfire and a fatal stabbing left one man dead and six others injured. Among them was Governor Cuomo's first deputy counsel, Carey Gabay, who remains in critical condition. He is reportedly in a coma.
Ruddy Roye, a Bed-Stuy-based Instagram photographer and activist, arrived at J'ouvert shortly before 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning, near the corner of Bedford Avenue and Empire Boulevard, to document the revelry for his sixth year running. "J'ouvert is about the macabre," he said. "There's a sacredness to it. It's decadent, in a nice way."
"Every year the police presence has increased," Roye added. "J'ouvert doesn't run freely anymore." He explained that officers cut off sections of the parade with netting, causing awkward pauses in the procession and the music.
"I've been showing up later and later every year because the police have taken up presence," he said. "I see them more, and I'm not saying that it's a bad thing, because over the years there has been violence [in the vicinity]... somebody has been stabbed, somebody has been beaten." However, "I think their presence invites a kind of tension."
September 7, 2015 Jab Jab - Jouvert Every year I tell myself that it is my last year, and every year I find myself chipping behind the Grenadians and the "Greenhouse Jab-jab" crew. This guy had too much "Rivers" rum, an un-distilled brew mixed with a concoction of roots from the Caribbean. #oggl_ig #blackportraiture #blackamericana #jouvert2015 #jouvert #streetphotography #streetportrait #makeportraits #makeportrait #ruddylens
A photo posted by "Humanist/Activist." (@ruddyroye) on
A woman was killed by stray bullet during a police-invovled shootout while sitting on her stoop near the parade route on Labor Day in 2011, and two men were stabbed to death after the Labor Day parade in 2012.
This year, a 24-year-old man was fatally stabbed and a 21-year-old man was shot in the buttocks just after 2 a.m. on Monday morning at Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway. Around 4:20 a.m., a 39-year-old man was shot twice in the torso at Martense Street and Nostrand Avenue in East Flatbush.
Cops said that Gabay was shot in the head on Bedford Avenue near Sullivan Place in Crown Heights around 3:45 a.m. Police don't believe he was the intended target, and that the shooting was between rival gangs. Shortly after, a 20-year-old man was reportedly shot in the hand at the corner of Empire Boulevard and Bedford Avenue, where Roye was documenting the festivities.
About 20 minutes after he arrived at J'ouvert, Roye said, "Police cars raced onto Empire. They created a perimeter. They yellow-lined the place. It was professional, and there was no extra anger. They could have easily ended J'ouvert, but they lined the area with extra officers, and we were able to complete J'ouvert that morning."
Still, for the rest of the morning, "It was somber. You could see it in people's faces, especially the older folks. There was concern about what is going to happen to J'ouvert next year."
Roye said that the violent scene at Empire and Nostrand Monday morning was highly unusual. "I've never seen anything violent during the procession," he said. "It has always been two blocks in on either side of Empire Boulevard."
In the days since J'ouvert 2015, there has been heated debate over the sustainability of the annual weekend of festivities, accentuated by the shooting of Gabay. ABC 7 published exclusive video of bystanders running from the crossfire that struck Gabay in the head, and the NYPD has announced a $12,500 reward for information regarding the shooter.
— Kemberly Richardson (@kemrichardson7) September 9, 2015
On Tuesday, Police Commissioner William Bratton called the weekend as a whole "our most violent public event in the city," and Crain's New York published an online poll asking, "Should the city ban the West Indian Day parade?"
But many have countered that lumping J'ouvert and the West Indian Day Parade into a single episode, and labeling it violent, only serves to distract New Yorkers from the larger issue at play. (Reached by phone, a spokeswoman for the West Indian American Carnival Association stressed that, organizationally, "J'ouvert has nothing to do with the West Indian Day parade.")
"We should utilize the carnival as a platform to discuss issues of gun violence in Brooklyn," Crown Heights Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo told the Times.
This might involve passing legislation geared at curbing gun sales. According to the Times, the NYPD arrested 13 people for gun possession between Sunday and Monday. Currently, at the national level, universal background checks are not required before a gun purchase is made—the law only mandates checks for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, which comprise just 60 percent of U.S. gun sales.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams announced on Tuesday an "emergency meeting" with NYPD officers and J'ouvert organizers to "review the celebrations as currently constituted and determine the best course of action for next year."
"The celebration of J'Ouvert is not inherently violent, so we must work to remove every violent element from this otherwise festive celebration of cultural pride," Adams said in a statement.
"The political leadership, the community leadership, the communities themselves want that celebration," Bratton echoed. "So we will work to the best of our ability to deal with the elements in that community that engage in that violence."
"You can cancel J'ouvert if you have tried everything else to stop the violence," Roye said. "The NRA continues to lobby for more guns. Before we go canceling one of our only demonstrations of Caribbean culture, maybe we should find ways to get guns off of the street."
In June the NYPD announced that shootings were on the rise in NYC for the second year running, and argued that this trend could justify an uptick in stop-and-frisks.