Increased security measures for J’Ouvert

New York City officials and J’Ouvert organizers on Monday announced enhanced parade security measures for the 2017 Caribbean J’Ouvert Celebration, which takes place on Monday, Sept. 4 at 6 am in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

The announcement was made at a press conference Monday at the Brooklyn Public Library by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York Police Department (NYPD), the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, J’Ouvert City International, organizers of the Caribbean J’Ouvert, and elected officials.

“J’Ouvert is one of the most vibrant and passionate celebrations of culture in our great city, and it is incumbent upon all of us to make this year’s festivities peaceful and enjoyable for everyone,” said de Blasio, whose wife, Chirlane McCray, traces her roots to Barbados and St. Lucia.

“I commend the parade organizers, New York Police Department and my colleagues in government for coalescing to come up with a sound plan to make this year’s J’Ouvert the safest ever,” the mayor added.

Noting that J’Ouvert is a celebration of Caribbean culture, Commissioner James P. O’Neill said the NYPD is committed to making it safe for all.

“That’s why, in addition to providing these enhanced security measures and additional public safety resources, we’ve been strengthening our partnerships with the community, elected officials, other city agencies and other stakeholders,” he said. “Each of us has the ability to make J’Ouvert safer and more enjoyable, and together we’re so much stronger.”

In past years, the J’Ouvert parade, which precedes the massive West Indian American Day Carnival Parade on Brooklyn’s sprawling Eastern Parkway, started at 4 am.

But the decision to step off this year’s parade two hours later, at 6 am was a “joint, strategic judgment” made by the parade’s organizers and permit holders — J’Ouvert City International — and the NYPD in an effort to reduce the potential for violence, according to the Mayor’s Office.

This year, the formation area and parade route will close to the general public the night before the parade.

Hundreds of additional uniformed officers — an increase of more than 10 percent over last year — will provide security at 12 secure entry points and along the two-mile parade route.

Both parade participants and spectators will be screened for weapons and alcoholic beverages. In addition, backpacks and other large bags will be prohibited, the NYPD said.

Organizers said each entry point will be outfitted with light towers to increase safety and facilitate the ease of entry.

Additional light towers — representing a total increase of about 30 percent over last year — will be placed along the parade route.

The NYPD said it will also deploy additional high-resolution security cameras this year.

J’Ouvert City International, headed by Trinidadian Yvette Rennie, said it is partnering with the NYPD, clergy, community members and elected officials “as part of a unified approach to enhance public safety at this year’s J’Ouvert celebration.”

The parade formation area will be located on Flatbush Avenue, from Grand Army Plaza to Empire Boulevard.

On step off, the parade will proceed south on Flatbush Avenue, east on Empire Boulevard and south on Nostrand Avenue to Midwood Street.

“The robust partnership of police and community, which this plan reflects, is making it possible for tens of thousands of peaceful New Yorkers to enjoy the upcoming J’Ouvert celebration in our city,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at the news conference. “Our efforts speak to a shared belief that public safety and violence prevention are best achieved when we are ‘all in.’”

New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, who represents parts of the area where the parade will be held, said he and others “have always welcomed efforts made to increase safety around J’Ouvert and to reduce gun violence and loss of life.

“I thank the mayor and Commissioner O’Neill for engaging, while respecting the culture and history of the Caribbean community and further understanding that J’Ouvert is not simply a parade, but a celebratory morning with people celebrating well beyond the parade boundaries similar to how many celebrate Memorial Day and July 4,” said the representative for the predominantly Caribbean 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

Williams said he was also thankful that the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence, the Crisis Management System and other community partners are playing “such a key role, as we all push to combat gun violence on this weekend and year-round.

“We owe all victims and their families our truest efforts and all New Yorkers a real plan of action,” he said.

Williams’ City Council colleague, Haitian Dr. Mathieu Eugene, said the purpose of J’Ouvert “is to create a welcoming environment to celebrate Caribbean culture.

“If moving the start time of the festival to 6 am is needed to increase the safety of the community, then that is the correct action to take,” said Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to New York City Council, representative for the also largely Caribbean 40th Council District in Brooklyn.

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who traces his roots to Puerto Rico, said he was hopeful that the enhanced security measures would “go a long way to ensuring that all who attend J’Ouvert celebrate their cultural heritage” and “remain safe from the violence that has marred this celebration in years past.”

Rennie, President J’Ouvert City International, Inc., said she was grateful to Mayor de Blasio, Adams, elected officials and the NYPD for “joining with us under one collective voice to ensure that we have a smooth and enjoyable 2017 J’Ouvert celebration.

“Our J’Ouvert is art, culture and self-expression through an artistic format showcasing the history of our ancestors, which has been taking place on streets of Brooklyn since 1984,” she said, adding that “J’Ouvert is a major part of West Indian culture.”

In recent years, reports indicate that the festive atmosphere encompassing J’Ouvert has attracted people looking to settle disputes under the cover of darkness and in the thickness of the crowds.

Four people were shot during the festival last year, and two, Tyreke Borel, 17, and Tiarah Poyau, 22, were killed, the New York Times noted.

In 2015, Carey W. Gabay, 43, a Jamaican-born lawyer in New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration, and Denentro Josiah, 24, were fatally wounded during the celebration.

Margaret Peters, 73, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, was wounded during J’ouvert last year when a bullet struck her left arm and right hand, according to the Times.

She said the new security plan was “a very good idea,” advising people not to allow the small risk of violence to keep them away from the celebration.

“Just go out and enjoy yourself,” she told the paper, “and hope to God you’ll be safe.”

More from Around NYC