Politicians, activists, and commentators have renewed calls to end J'Ouvert, the annual predawn Carnival celebration in Brooklyn ahead of the West Indian American Day Parade, after five people were stabbed or shot, two fatally, during this year's festivities. People carried out the violence despite a doubled police presence and the mayor's pledge to make this year's event the "safest J'Ouvert ever."
Two people were killed during last year's J'Ouvert as well, including Carey Gabay, a former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and a lawyer for a state pro-business agency at the time of his death.
Crown Heights Assemblyman Walter Mosley told the Daily News in a statement, "It cannot be tolerated that this event has appeared to become a predetermined point of destination to settle individual disputes through violence. After long consideration, it is with a heavy heart that I call on a suspension of the J'Ouvert celebration."
Crown Heights resident and NY1 Inside City Hall host Errol Louis has been particularly outspoken about the need to severely regulate or even outlaw the street party where paint, powder, and oil fly, in his neighborhood and nearby Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Speaking to WNYC this morning, Louis said:
I wrote a column after last year's murders at the same event, in the same place, which happens to be the neighborhood that I live in. I strongly recommended last year that there either be a radical change in how it's done, or an end to it. There's no other event, probably in North America, certainly not in New York City, where you invite hundreds of thousands of people into the streets at 4 o'clock in the morning, in an area that's heavy with gang activity, and hope for the best. It's extraordinary, and it doesn't work. I think we've seen that in the past. After the extraordinary measures that were put in place didn't stop violence last night, I think it should be pretty clear.
In his Daily News column last year, Louis said that the event should start after dawn unless it is shortened and held in a "controlled and brightly lit space," with no alcohol and with security in place to screen participants coming in. Speaking Monday about whether he would consider canceling J'Ouvert, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "All options are on the table" and pledged a "full review."
Speaking about local Brooklyn politicians this morning, Louis said:
I've talked with all of them about this. The first thing that comes out of their mouth is, "Well, we aren't going to cancel J'Ouvert." So you start from this standpoint of, no matter what happens, they want to make sure that hundreds of thousands of people are roaming the streets at 4 o'clock in the morning. And it's out of a completely misguided sense that this is some strong cultural tradition that the public in their districts really want to have in place no matter what.
That's simply not true. My grandparents are Trinidadian. I come out of this so-called culture. The reality is that J'Ouvert, as practiced in the Caribbean, happens in February. This is all a cultural transplant. It's a cultural sort of invention. What's been invented can be altered or uninvented, or frankly, rooted out if necessary.
But rather than risk losing a few votes, these folks start with the standpoint that, we have to be able to do this, rather than take the hard decision—believe me, you're not going to find any of them around today. I'm glad you were able to find me. Good luck trying to find any of them.
Others, including local residents, a police union official, former comptroller Bill Thompson, and Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander told the New York Post and the Daily News that the event could or should be canceled. Cuomo and de Blasio also said that the shootings show the need for federal gun control legislation.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams resisted the call to end J'Ouvert in the borough, saying, "We need to be clear: New York City and NYPD do not surrender to violence—violence surrenders to us."
Speaking to the New York Times during the daytime parade, Councilman Jumaane Williams said of this year's violence, "I’m sickened by it. I’m saddened by it."
True to Louis's prediction, though, calls to Williams, Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, and state senators Jesse Hamilton and Kevin Parker weren't returned by press time. Nor did J'Ouvert City International, the ostensible organizer of the early-morning gathering, respond to an emailed inquiry. Calls to the number listed for the group got a busy signal.
Parker did speak to the News, saying, "We have in our community a violence problem, not a J’Ouvert problem. There's violence going on between these same people every day of the week, not just on Labor Day. Getting rid of J’Ouvert, even if we did it, wouldn't speak to any of the issues we deal with 364 days of the year."
Parker and Williams staked out their positions on the issue in a sometimes-heated discussion on Louis's show last week.
Williams argued that J'Ouvert is being unfairly singled out (in years past, metro reporters who aren't Louis have seemed unaware that the early-morning party is something distinct from the West Indian Day Parade so...progress?), saying, "The correlation that, if these festivities didn't occur, there would be no violence, is just false. So we need to continue to talk about how to deal with the violence."
Indeed, as of August 28th, the NYPD's 67th Precinct, which covers East Flatbush and part of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, had reported 34 shooting incidents with 41 victims, and 9 murders, which comes out to a little over 4 shootings and 1 murder a month. The 71st Precinct, covering Crown Heights, reported 12 shootings with 12 victims, and 2 murders in the same period. Both precincts reported violent crime decreases in the first eight months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
Parker and Williams also argued that, though the group J'Ouvert City International is officially the party organizer and was pressured into seeking a city permit this year, the celebration is a decentralized tradition that people will partake in whether or not it has the city's sanction.
"Whether in fact J'Ouvert City organized something, whether we got permits, whether we got lighting, whether we got 2,000 police, it's still J'Ouvert, and there's still going to be people in that street," Parker said.
Speaking to Gothamist early Monday morning, reveler Andriana Beltre shrugged off the violence, saying "If you're gang-involved, that's when things happen."
In a crowded street, though, bullets are not so discerning. Police say that 17-year-old Tyreke Borel, fatally shot at Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue, was likely not the intended target (postings on Borel's Facebook page do suggest that he was affiliated with a local Crip crew). Borel's stepfather told reporters that he wanted to become a mechanic. An elderly woman was also injured in the shooting. Thirty minutes later, about a block away, aspiring accountant Tiarah Poyau was fatally shot in the face in what police said again was a case of another errant killing.
Gabay, the deceased Cuomo aide, suffered his fatal wounds last year when he was caught in the crossfire of a pitched gun battle between what the authorities say were members of the Folk Nation, Eight-Trey Crips, and Hoodstarz crews in front of the Ebbetts Field Apartments, a reputed Folk stronghold. The Eight Treys are based in nearby East Flatbush, and the Hoodstarz in Brownsville.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo called us back.