J’Ouvert fun amidst violence

Up in the air: Parade goers covered in powder and paint, as they celebrate Caribbean heritage at the J’ouvert parade in Prospect Heights on Monday.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This year’s J’Ouvert parade cost the lives of two innocent bystanders and injured four more, but the lively spirit of many parade-goers helped them enjoy the annual pre-dawn celebration.

“I had a lot of fun. It started a little late but I had a great time with my friends dancing it was awesome,” said Hunter Serrano, who attended the early morning festivities with friends.

With the increased police presence and lighting this year, many participants were not aware of the gun violence at the parade until it was over.

“I didn’t know that anything went to down until I woke up the next day,” said Serrano. “Unfortunately things happen — I feel really sad for her,” he said referencing the 22-year–old woman who was shot just two blocks away from where he and friends situated.

I felt that me going there and showing love to all my friend strain my brothers and sisters, i came there to have fun, unfortunately things to do happen.”

J’ouvert, which means daybreak celebrates the hours before carnival. Starting in Brooklyn in 1984, the event precedes the West Indian American Day parade which starts later that morning.

Many veteran participants attended the event to see their favorite acts, including other impromptu activities happening near the route, said one local man.

Big sounds: Members of the Brother High Haitian Rara Band, play trumpets at the J’ouvert parade in Prospect Heights.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

“I went out early to went to see the Haitian bands — there are two and I always get the second band,” said Devon Wilks, who has been coming to the event for 11 years.

“Then I went to a mobile party happening on Empire Boulevard — there was a guy who had loud speakers in his car. I stayed there till 2 am.

Last year the shooting death of Carey Gabay, an aide to Gov. Cuomo, forced the NYPD and organizers of the parade to talk about violence during the parade. In July, commissioner Bratton announced that he would be ramping up security for the newly permitted parade, adding more uniformed officers along the route, as well as adding 200 light towers, up from 40 the previous year.

But supporters and organizers for the event say that critics should not use the parade as a scapegoat for the crimes.

“We cannot control the actions of others,” said Magnus Scanterbury, vice president of J’Ouvert City International, Inc., the organization that oversees the parade. “It’s just a few uncontrolled people — it happens everyday but just on that day, people use the parade to blame it. It’s not the cause of the parade these incidents occur.”

Other parade-goers say the violence should not prevent potential participants from joining the parade, and praised the police for handling the route after the violence and not shutting it down.

“I really think people should give J’Ouvert a chance — it’s not all violence,” said Wilks. “Come out and try it — come out and see the festivities. Even while the cops were dealing with the situation, people were still partying. They didn’t make an issue and they worked with us, and we worked with them.”

Dance off: A young woman dances at the J’ouvert parade on September 5.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

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