It's Carnival. Look Bacchanal

title taken from "Carnival Is Here" by Kes the Band

Brooklyn's J'Ouvert and Labor Day Parade

It's been one week since Labor Day. A day where West Indians celebrate the culture and pageantry of the Caribbean with festivities throughout the long weekend culminating in a parade along Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. However, this day was full of disappointments and tragedy.  J'ouvert was once again marred by violence and the annual parade was a lackluster crawl.

People running at j'ouvert.  Photo cred: Stephen Yang, New York Post

People running at j'ouvert. Photo cred: Stephen Yang, New York Post

The term senseless violence was never more appropriately used than in reference to the killings j'ouvert morning.  The results of the investigation into the deaths of Tyreke Borel, 17, and Tiarah Poyau, 22, are infuriating.  According to the New York Daily News, Borel, who was shot in the chest, was an unintended casualty.  Poyau, a graduate student at St. John's University was apparently murdered because she told a man to stop grinding on her.  Her alleged killer Reginald Moise, claimed that he did not know that the gun he brought with him was loaded.  Although he was heavily intoxicated at the time, he doesn't think he shot Poyau, but "If [he] did it, it was unintentional."

Our community has been aware of the problems with j'ouvert for years, and even with increased police presence, we still cannot curb the violence.  If the event continues, there needs to be stricter regulation. Unlike the parade, the West Indian American Carnival Association does not manage j'ouvert.  In response to the violence, J'Ouvert City International Inc. issued the following statement on their Facebook page:

J’Ouvert City International Inc. and its member organizations would like to extend their heartfelt condolences and prayers to the families of those who lost their lives and those who got wounded during the J’Ouvert on Labor Day weekend.  It pains us as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to hear of such criminal activities that a small percentage of our children have chosen to be part of their lives.  However we are not going to give up on our communities, we are not going to allow this small percentage destroy our culture and run us out of town. We will continue to pray for everyone.

We need more than prayer.  I have not yet seen what new security measures will be taken and when.

The violence was not as severe during the actual Labor Day parade but it was still disappointing. 

I love to play mas, but I have never done in Brooklyn.  Why?  There's no reason to spend money on a costume that I may or may not get in time for the parade (yes, some of my friends have had to improvise because their full costumes were not ready) and then have to deal with stormers the entire day.  This leads to fights and security problems that can ruin the vibes of the parade.

Guyana truck on the road

Guyana truck on the road

CarNYval dancers with Digicel

There were also literally 10 to 15-minute gaps between trucks.  With frequent stops, emcees needing to cut the music to address stormers, and sparse security, I can't see the value of playing mas here. How can band leaders promote playing mas when this is what your customers can expect?

These problems are not easily remedied, but we need to stop blame-dodging.  If you think this is due to "Americans" coming to our parties and starting trouble, you're mistaken.  The man arrested in the j'ouvert death is of West Indian heritage.  If you think it's due to young people not knowing the culture, well whose fault is that?  We need to make sure they have pride in their culture so that they can continue our traditions.  We also need to review the actions of organizations like J'Ouvert City and WIADCA.  When a party gets out of hand, we expect the promoters (the people who make money off of these events) to take ownership.  Why are we not asking the same of these organizations?

Haiti truck at Franklin Ave

Haiti truck at Franklin Ave

As a West Indian Brooklynite, I want our culture to be positively displayed.  I don't want people feeling like they need to walk with a gun to our events. I don't want women feeling unsafe because a simple refusal to dance might get them killed.  I also don't want a half-ass mas!  With the city ready to shut down j'ouvert (and don't think they won't extend that to the parade), we need to take responsibility for our community and make sure we don't lose Brooklyn Carnival altogether.