BROOKLYN — Hours before the West Indian Day Parade marches down Eastern Parkway this year, its festive pre-dawn counterpart J’Ouvert will come to the neighborhood on Sept. 5 — and with it, more scrutiny and attention following a high-profile fatal shooting near the event last year.
J’Ouvert, literally meaning “daybreak” in French, is what kicks off Caribbean Carnival, the annual holiday that has taken place for years in Brooklyn to coincide with Labor Day.
Its historic origins come from the emancipation of slavery in the Caribbean, according to Councilman Jumaane Williams, representative of Flatbush and a participant in J’Ouvert for as long as he can remember.
“But for a lot of us, it just means the morning of carnival — that a lot of good fun is about to happen,” he told DNAinfo New York.
It also means a lot of people out on the streets of Flatbush and Crown Heights before the sun comes up — sometimes as early as midnight — in costume or throwing baby powder in the air (a J’Ouvert tradition), but more often than not it's people just walking and hanging out.
“From Church [Avenue] to Empire [Boulevard], you have a lot of people outside with good vibes and hoping to celebrate the culture,” Williams said.
But, he said, “like any other day, there are people outside who mean ill will.”
Violence during those early morning hours marred last year’s J’Ouvert celebration. Multiple shootings took place in the area, resulting in the death of 43-year-old Carey Gabay, an attorney working for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration who was fatally shot at the Ebbets Field apartment complex on Bedford Avenue as he celebrated the holiday.
Gabay was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of a shooting that police later identified as gang-related. NYPD officials have since said the perpetrators were not linked to J'Ouvert.
Many community leaders have adamantly said Gabay’s death happened during, but not because of, the holiday. Yvette Rennie, the creator and organizer for more than three decades of the official J’Ouvert parade (separate from the West Indian Day Parade) told DNAinfo the shooting “has nothing to do with our route.”
But following Gabay’s death, the police department significantly ramped up security measures surrounding the event: the J’Ouvert parade will now have a permit, the number of officers monitoring the celebration will double this year and 200 light towers are set to be deployed in the area.
On Thursday, the local 71st Precinct posted a pre-J'ouvert flyer telling residents the "community will no longer tolerate this violence."
At a press conference in July outlining changes for this year’s event, Rennie said she feels “very comfortable” with the NYPD’s strategy and feels her organization, J’Ouvert City International, has been “disciplined” in working with police to plan for this year.
“The same way there is the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the same way there is Halloween … the organization works with the police,” she said.
To help residents of Flatbush and Crown Heights know what to expect at J’Ouvert this year, DNAinfo compiled a guide for the event, which will be updated as needed leading up to Labor Day:
The above map shows the official J’Ouvert parade formation area, parade route and viewing stands according to police officials. All streets shown above will be closed from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., the NYPD said.
However, it should be noted that, generally, the J’Ouvert celebration is larger than just the official parade route and will spill onto lots of streets throughout Crown Heights and Flatbush, usually between Eastern Parkway and Church Avenue.
The official J’Ouvert parade is set to start at 4 a.m. on Sept. 5 at Grand Army Plaza and is expected to continue through 9 or 10 a.m. But J’Ouvert revelers often begin celebrating at midnight — when carnival officially begins.
J’Ouvert City International are the official organizers of the parade, not to be confused with the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, the organizers of the much larger daytime Eastern Parkway parade. For more information about the J’Ouvert parade, visit jouvertcityint.org.
How will J'Ouvert change this year?
The parade will be permitted and participants will likely see more street closures, light towers, police officers and parked police cars in the area, particularly around the parade route. At a press conference about J'Ouvert in July, NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill (soon to be Police Commissioner) said the police department is "putting a lot of personnel in here [and] a lot of equipment" in the neighborhood. "We’re going to do our best to keep everybody safe,” he said.