Officials say Caribbean J’Ouvert spared violence this year

Officials say Caribbean J’Ouvert spared violence this year
“Primitiva” from the band “Untamed” led by Roy Pierre and Associates.
Keith Getter

New York Police Department (NYPD) and other officials say Caribbean J’Ouvert in Brooklyn has been spared this year the violence that has marred the festival in recent years.

Police said the later start time, hundreds of portable streetlight and enhanced security checkpoints helped immeasurably in making the event safer.

Hazel John, 70, a co-founder of J’Ouvert City International, organizers of J’Ouvert, told reporters the enhanced security was warranted.

“It shows they’re concerned about our protection,” she said. “The people who come to enjoy the event feel more protected.”

Officials and police said alcohol and large bags were banned from J’Ouvert as part of changes of a new safety plan for the celebration that includes moving its start time to daylight hours following years of deadly violence on or near the pre-dawn parade route.

Revelers attending the parade — which ran from Grand Army Plaza, down Flatbush Avenue and east on Empire Boulevard — were subjected to metal detector wand searches at 12 checkpoints along the route.

No alcohol or large bags and backpacks were permitted past the checkpoints.

“From the beginning, there was a decision to fundamentally change the reality, including the hours — to daylight — and the level of screening to make sure there are not weapons anywhere nearby,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Police said a total of 2,000 police officers patrolled the parade route and worked at the checkpoints.

The safety plan was created by a group of elected officials, the NYPD and the parade’s organizers, J’Ouvert City International, over the past several weeks.

Traditionally, J’Ouvert begins at about 2 am, but the new hours for the permitted procession started at 6:00 a.m. and ended at 11:00 a.m., said Trinidadian Yvette Rennie, president of J’Ouvert City.

Rennie, according to the New York Daily News, said the change was made specifically to stop the violence and was “a combination of all our concerns, because we are extremely concerned that darkness is when everything (bad) happens.

“Based on what happened in those consecutive years, we felt that it was very important that we bring it more into light,” said Rennie, adding that her group proposed the time change.

Last year, two people were killed during the overnight revelry, despite an increased NYPD presence, lighting and other measures that were adopted, the Daily News said.

In 2015, it said the celebration of the Caribbean culture was marred by bloodshed when 43-year-old Carey Gabay, a Jamaican-American Harvard-educated lawyer and aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was caught in gang members’ crossfire and fatally wounded near the parade route.

J’Ouvert, which means “daybreak,” precedes Brooklyn’s West Indian American Day Carnival Parade, but is not affiliated with it.

Aziza Benjamin, 24, a criminal justice student at LaGuardia Community College, decorated her face with paint and blue, green and yellow rhinestones for her native country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I wish things could go back to the way they used to be,” Benjamin, who has watched the J’ouvert procession the last six years, told the New York Times.

But, despite the relatively peaceful J’Ouvert this year, gunfire erupted on the fringes of the route, according to reports.

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