After the postponement of official J’Ouvert and Labor Day celebrations this year, and the devastation of Hurricane Ida days before, a chance to enjoy traditional Caribbean festivities looked bleak. Sunday night into Monday morning was balmy and pleasant compared to the torrential downpour that had flooded the city and people took to the streets and parks in much smaller groups.
The Haitian Plezi and the Plezi Rara band, formed in October of 2016 in Brooklyn, led a lively gathering of about 200 celebrators around Prospect Park, Eastern Parkway, and Crown Heights from around 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
In the past, an overwhelming concern for organizers, officials, and police was the gun violence that cropped up during the long weekend and celebrations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his Tuesday briefing, noted that this year there was not a single incident of violence or a shooting connected to the in-person celebrations in Brooklyn. Uniform police officers from Brooklyn North and South were posted in droves on almost every block and subway stop, in unmarked vans and vehicles, and had helicopter assistance to monitor festivities.
Generally speaking, shootings have gone down in Brooklyn about 47.7% since last August, announced de Blasio yesterday. “That’s a harbinger of good things to come,” said de Blasio about the rates and rise in gun arrests.
De Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Police Chief Rodney Harrison also credited the many youth programs for the overall decrease in violence, and the Crisis Management System workers and violence interrupters for being on the frontline in the efforts to keep people safe during Labor Day.
Brownsville Think Tank Matters (BTT) violence interrupters, along with Developing Righteous United Movements (D.R.U.M.), for instance, stationed themselves with officers on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Road for some time to ensure that Plezi paraders were safe as they followed the drum circle back into the park and out of the streets.
“Very interesting, long night. We been out here since 12, and you know, just trying to help keep some of the conflict down and let people enjoy themselves,” said Al Mathieu of BTT.
Mathieu said the group also helped mediate a few block parties and cookouts during the night but the general vibe was peaceful. Elsewhere, party goers had posted up with friends and family at tents in front of their buildings. They threw oil, sold jerk chicken to passersby, waved flags, and danced to loud music on the sidewalk as the sun continued to rise.
Grieg Jainarine is Guyanese and co-owns Tota’s Bakery and Restaurant on 244 Utica Avenue in Crown Heights. Jainarine said that he has had his store for almost 30 years and used to keep it open all night for J’ Ouvert and Labor Day patrons.
“The people just aren’t here anymore,” he said. “Still we don’t close.” Jainarine kept the restaurant open all night this year, but it was visibly lacking in as many customers as previous years.
Some expressed that they were deeply concerned that this year, the second year of the cancelling of the parade due to COVID concerns, would truly mark the end of the spirit of J’Ouvert and the West Indian Day parade festival.
“They’ve been trying to get rid of it for years,” said one man disheartedly since he was spending his J’Ouvert outside of Tota’s. He said he hoped that the local officials would fight for the festival to live on in coming years.
“For years, the West Indian Day Carnival has been a cherished tradition where my family, neighbors, and friends can enjoy the sights and sounds of the Caribbean,” said Councilmember Farah Louis in a statement. “While many New Yorkers and tourists may be disappointed by the smaller-scale festivities, this difficult decision was made to protect the public’s health and safety amid the ongoing health crisis.”
As Labor Day began on Monday morning the roads stayed open, but the music and celebrations on city blocks and in front of people’s homes continued.
Mayor-elect and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams made an appearance at the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) festivities located behind the Brooklyn Museum this year. Attendees dressed in elaborate garb and costumes to round out this year’s events.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1