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Restrained revelry: Heightened J’Ouvert security prevents fatalities, changes atmosphere

Daybreak: Thousands celebrate the early morning festivity of J’Ouvert at the start of the parade route near Grand Army Plaza on Sept. 4.
Photo by Jon Farina

It was the dawn of a new J’Ouvert.

Thousands of revelers gathered in Crown Heights on Sept. 4 for the early-morning parade that unfolded without a fatality after years of deadly violence following the enaction of its strictest security measures yet. But the precautions, which included a significantly increased police presence, resulted in a festival largely unrecognizable to long-time attendees.

“It was dead,” said Imani Henry of Equality for Flatbush, an advocacy group that monitors police–community relations at the event. “There were no people and no vendors, and usually for there are a lot of people out.”

The beefed up safety also included pushing the procession’s start time from 4 am to 6 am, setting up more floodlights along its route from Grand Army Plaza to Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and installing entry checkpoints with metal detectors — all of which sucked life from the historically spirited celebration, according to Henry.

“It created a different energy,” he said. “And then there was no one on street. We saw a lot of bands marching, but where were the regular people?”

And the heightened security did not entirely curb festival-related violence: Around 5 am, a 38-year-old man was shot in the abdomen and a 34-year-old man was hit by a bullet in his left leg, the New York Post reported. Both men were near the parade route, and the 38-year-old sought treatment at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center while the 34-year-old checked-in to Kings County Hospital. Neither injury was life-threatening, according to authorities.

But Henry said that the safety crackdown, while noticeable, did not completely stifle the camaraderie and spirit of J’Ouvert, which celebrates Caribbean cultural resistance.

“I was proud of my community because we were in solidarity,” he said. “Very few people were happy about the cops, but the way people looked out for each other was beautiful.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.

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