J’Ouvert, gun violence, and the need to heal

As the father of two young children I cannot fathom the heartbreak I would feel if I lost either of them to gun violence, but on Monday morning two families went through that very situation.

An estimated 28 lives have been lost in the past 10 years at J’Ouvert or surrounding areas of the overnight parade, which draws out roughly 250,000 people every Labor Day. In the predawn hours of the morning, crowds gather for “day break”, the opening of the Carnival, which is celebrated throughout the Caribbean.

Here in my district of Crown Heights, the heart of the CaribbeanAmerican diaspora of this city, we celebrate with colors and pageantry that rivals any of the home islands.

Unfortunately, over the last decade this vibrant festivity has been marred by violence, injury and the untimely death of too many of our friends and neighbors.

On Monday two more lives were lost during these annual celebrations when 22-year-old Tiarah Poyou and 17-years-old Tyreke Borel were caught in crossfire shootouts of rival gangs. These senseless acts of violence coupled with the loss of the governor’s aide, Carey Gabay last year, has forced me to reevaluate my stance on the celebration. With gun violence still plaguing the communities of central Brooklyn, it cannot be tolerated that this event has become a predetermined point of destination to settle individual disputes through violence. While I do not believe thousands of revelers come into my district with the intent of vengeance, it cannot be ignored that despite our best efforts to combat this brutality, the addition of 3,000 uniformed police, 200 light towers and one of the most extensive community police planning I have ever seen, still four individuals were shot, and two of them lost their lives.

It was my sincerest hope that after the tragic loss of Mr. Gabay last year and an intense community / police plan constructed over the course of a year with community leaders, parade officials, and the NYPD we would be rejoicing this year without tragedy and mourning. With another tragic result I can no longer plan, wait, watch, and hope that the parade I have previously supported does not continue to produce violence and injury. I, as an elected representative of the people, must do what I feel is right. I refuse to play trial and error with the lives of my fellow New Yorkers.

Residents of the community should not fear that year after year on Labor Day they will live in a police state. As J’Ouvert has traditionally been an overnight celebration, Brooklyn has seen a noticeable increase of police made up of officers outside of our local precincts, all of which are on high alert; this presence only further divides our community and police.

I call for a suspension of the overnight J’Ouvert festivities. This is not a permanent banning of the event; I wholeheartedly wish to see this celebration continue, but in the safest manner possible. In preparing for future J’Ouvert festivals, I recommend that our community and police plans include creating a number of security checkpoints, similarly implemented to the Time Square’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. This includes having revelers screened by metal detectors before entering parade grounds. I also recommend a moratorium be placed on selling alcohol during any future J’Ouvert events.

I understand what my call means to some, that I am surrendering to violence, denying the expression of cultural heritage to a community that at times feels left on the margins, and left out of mainstream society. What it really means is putting the lives of our children and our community first. My hope is that community leaders and our police force can have time to implement measures that would ensure gun violence will no longer be a part of an important and historic celebration.

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