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Checkpoints and Alcohol Ban Planned at J'Ouvert Parade Route This Year

 Revelers flood the streets on Empire Boulevard during 2016's J'Ouvert parade.
Revelers flood the streets on Empire Boulevard during 2016's J'Ouvert parade.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS — Booze and large bags will be banned from the J’Ouvert parade this year, screened through a dozen NYPD checkpoints to be set up along the route, officials and police said.

The changes are part of a new safety plan for the celebration that includes moving its start time to daylight hours following years of deadly violence on or near the pre-dawn J’Ouvert parade route.

Revelers attending the parade — which runs from Grand Army Plaza, down Flatbush Avenue and east on Empire Boulevard — will be subject to metal detector wand searches at 12 checkpoints along the route, according to police and a notice from Assemblyman Walter Mosley.

No alcohol or large bags and backpacks will be allowed past the checkpoints, an emailed statement sent Monday from Mosley said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill confirmed the new safety plan Tuesday. At an unrelated press conference at a Park Slope school, the mayor said "we needed to something different."

"From the beginning there was a decision to fundamentally change the reality, including the hours — to daylight — and the level of screening to make sure there are not weapons anywhere nearby," de Blasio said.

Mosley, who called for the event to be canceled outright last year after shootings killed two young people on the parade route, said in a statement he is “thrilled that the NYPD has taken the concerns of the community seriously.”

“Over the past few years we have experienced senseless and tragic acts of violence that has marred an otherwise vibrant and uplifting celebration of culture and history,” he said.

A total of 2,000 police officers will be patrolling the parade route and working at the checkpoints and light towers will be installed there, as well, police said.

The safety plan was created by a group of elected officials, the NYPD and the parade’s organizers, J’Ouvert City International, over the past several weeks, O'Neill said.

The area’s district leader and anti-violence activist Geoffrey Davis said the changes are necessary after years of repeated shootings at the festival.

“We have to do something,” he told DNAinfo New York on Tuesday. “Those of us in leadership positions can’t just say, ‘Keep celebrating. Oh well. We lost these people.’ We can’t do that.”

However, he said it’s unlikely the checkpoints, new rules and time change will be a quick fix for violence in the area on Labor Day weekend, particularly because the festivities extend far beyond the parade’s boundaries.

J’Ouvert — which translates to “daybreak” and kicks off Caribbean carnival and the famous West Indian Day Parade held on Eastern Parkway each Labor Day — traditionally include house parties, barbecues and people partying in the streets from Flatbush to Crown Heights, often starting as early as 2 a.m.

Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident Anton Gold celebrates J'Ouvert every year, often photographing the festivities to share images of the celebration with his neighbors. In 13 years, he says, he's never seen a single act of violence and thinks the NYPD's attention on the parade is "misdirected."

“I disagree with them right to the very core. It’s so naive to think this is a J’Ouvert problem. New York City and the entire country has a gun violence problem and guns are the problem," he said.

To him, the reaction to the event is "totally disrespecting this cultural ritual."

"It’s easy to beat up on something that you’ve never been to and you don’t know anything about," he said.

As part of changes for the event this year, District Leader Davis is helping to organize an educational concert to take place at Medgar Evers College on Aug. 28, a week before J’Ouvert to help teach young people about the culture of the festival, he said.

“Our young people just don’t know what J'Ouvert is all about, or the history," he said. "To them, it’s just a party every year."

— Additional reporting by Amy Zimmer.