BROOKLYN — The pre-West Indian Day Parade celebration of J’Ouvert will go on, the police commissioner announced this week, despite past violence that has marred the annual Caribbean tradition.
More street lighting, better staffing and official permitting is the goal for the pre-dawn Labor Day event this year, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in an announcement Wednesday. He was joined by Borough President Eric Adams, elected officials in Flatbush and Crown Heights and Trenelle Gabay, wife of 43-year-old Carey Gabay who was shot and killed during J'Ouvert last year.
Bratton said the NYPD is working with the Caribbean community to make J’Ouvert — an outdoor celebration of emancipation from slavery that typically marks the beginning of carnival — an “authorized event” after years of the parade-like gathering happening unofficially.
“One of the significant criticism of this event is that it has proceeded for most of its time without a permit, whereas every other large gathering in the City of New York — every other large parade — has a permit. I think that’s a critical first step,” he said.
Better lighting, too, and more staffing — including what Bratton called “violence interrupters" — are necessary to make the early morning march “a peaceful event,” particularly because “street lighting in that area in the best of times is not particularly adequate.”
“The darkness does assist in the acts of violence,” he said.
One of those acts of violence during J’Ouvert last year took the life of Carey Gabay, staffer to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was celebrating his Jamaican heritage, his widow said, when he was fatally injured in an unrelated gang shooting near the Ebbets Field apartments in Crown Heights.
At Tuesday’s announcement, which came hours after the NYPD released four new images of people wanted for questioning in regards to the shooting, Gabay’s widow, herself of Trinidadian descent, made it clear she wants J’Ouvert to continue, despite the violence that ended her husband’s life.
“When you understand the significance of what J’Ouvert entails, the culture resonates with your soul,” she said. “My husband was amidst this very celebration of our heritage and never made it home due to the gang and gun violence. Our efforts here today is to try to lay the groundwork to make J’Ouvert safer to ensure that an egregious tragedy like this doesn't happen to anyone else.”
Councilman Jumaane Williams thanked Gabay for her strength in conversations about improving the event, and the NYPD for collaborating to make it safer, not cancel it.
“I’m glad that the conversation resisted some people’s call to end the celebration, not recognizing what it meant,” he said.
Though Bratton did not say what specifics he or the department will require from those who celebrate J’Ouvert — it's unclear, in fact, who organizes the large gathering — but said staffing issues and funding for more street lighting will be arranged in collaboration with the NYPD, the area’s elected officials and local community leaders.
“I’d like to see this evolve to where it’s not something that we look forward to with trepidation, but rather [with] anticipation of a joyful event for the whole city,” he said.