CROWN HEIGHTS — The NYPD is planning to double the number of police officers at J’Ouvert this year, bulking up the department’s presence at the pre-dawn Labor Day celebration following violence at the event last year, police officials said Tuesday.
The plan for policing J’Ouvert — a Caribbean festival meaning “day break” that is observed in the very early morning of Labor Day to celebrate the start of carnival — includes officially issuing a permit for the event for the first time ever, flooding the neighborhood with about 200 portable light towers and parking more patrol cars with lights flashing in the area to deter those who may want to do harm, said NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill.
“The NYPD’s putting a lot of personnel in here, a lot of equipment in here. We’re going to do our best to keep everybody safe,” he said at a press conference at Medgar Evers College on Tuesday, a half block from the Ebbets Field apartments where 43-year-old Carey Gabay, an attorney for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, was shot and killed during J’Ouvert in 2015.
The safety plan, detailed by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Borough President Eric Adams, also includes working with local “violence interrupters” to deter gun violence, checking in with parolees before the event, and coordinating with the officials from J’Ouvert City International, organizers of a parade (not to be confused with the much larger West Indian Day Parade) that takes place during the loosely organized J’Ouvert celebration.
But for all the department’s planning, NYPD’s leaders and elected officials stressed that the police cannot keep the peace alone. Adams encouraged parents to “keep their eyes on” their children to watch out for troublemaking. A representative of the mayor’s office also asked homeowners and shop owners to keep their lights on during the event.
“The J’Ouvert mindset is very similar to the New Year’s Eve mindset where anything goes,” said Steven Powers, the NYPD's Chief of Brooklyn South. “When that happens on a hot summer night, that’s when problems arise.”
Those planning for this year’s event acknowledged J’Ouvert has a troubled past, but stressed that the bad reputation is “based on violent acts of those who are not part of the parade,” as Adams put it, including the fatal shooting of Gabay.
“Over a million people come here to participate in the celebration,” Adams said. “All it takes is a few.”
Yvette Rennie, the longtime parade organizer from J’Ouvert City International, will hold the official permit for the event this year, she said, though her parade is a small part of the large and amorphous J’Ouvert celebration which often consists of large crowds roaming through Flatbush and Crown Heights, often without an official start or end.
On Tuesday, Rennie, who founded the J’Ouvert tin pan parade and float competition in 1984, urged her neighbors to encourage the gang members in their neighborhoods “to put the guns down now and celebrate J’Ouvert.”
“My J’Ouvert is a safe J’Ouvert,” she said.
The official J’Ouvert parade will take place at 2 a.m. on Labor Day, Sept. 5, starting at Grand Army Plaza and continuing south on Flatbush Avenue to Empire Boulevard, organizers said. The event travels east on Empire Boulevard to Nostrand Avenue, finishing at Nostrand Avenue and Midwood Street at 10 a.m.