Police, Politicians, Partygoers Enjoy Subdued West Indian Day Parade


Although celebratory, this year’s J’ouvert and West Indian Labor Day Parade reflected a somewhat dampened mood in the streets.

As I had done in years prior, I visited a marching camp, where a basement of an apartment building had been transformed into a costume shop. Women armed with hot glue guns adorned their costumes and headdress with feathers, glitter and rhinestones, all the while drinking, smoking and celebrating.

The alley near Church Avenue and East 34th street, typically bubbling with people and busy with preparations, only had a few scattered partygoers.

Smoke rose up from vendors barbecuing chicken as a female officer went down into the basement where women were working on costumes. Minutes later the officer resurfaced with two women, she escorted out of the celebration.

The Caribbean cultural identity celebration has significant meaning for participants. For instance, in Trinidad, and other parts of the Caribbean, J’Ouvert celebrates freedom and the emancipation of slaves, people paint themselves as devils, and wear horns and chains to mock slave masters.

The celebration also has a reputation for violence. The story of Tiarah Poyau who was murdered during the 2016 celebration for telling a man to stop dancing with her, still haunts me.

Spirits were slightly dampened with the large police presence. Photo by Monica Melton

I drop pins of my location to friends as I walked through the streets to meet up with my group just after midnight. I’m greeted by the blank, but vigilant glare of officers at every turn and along the way and I don’t know whether to feel safe or afraid of their presence.  

I gave up finding a lively J’ouvert crowd around 4 a.m. and headed home.

I woke to the sounds and smells of celebration, I joined hundreds if not thousands of people, many of which had been with the parade since the start at Grand Army Plaza marching and dancing their way toward, Midwood Street where the parade would conclude.  

The West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) organizes the event each year, which began in Crown Heights in 1969.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Al Sharpton and Attorney General candidates Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout among others, were also in attendance.

Candidate for governor Cynthia Nixon took to the streets with Lieutenant Governor hopeful Jumaane Williams posing for pictures and occasionally breaking out in dance.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who marched in this past Sunday’s parade spoke last week about the heightened police presence in an effort to curb violence associated with the parade and the preceding J’ Ouvert celebration that takes places in the wee hours of the morning prior to the march.

“No one should have to choose between ensuring their safety and celebrating their heritage,” de Blasio remarked to the Daily News.

In addition to cops on every corner, the J’ ouvert celebration has been moved up from about 4 a.m. to 6 a,m, to coincide with daybreak.

One celebrator told Kings County Politics that “every year they’re pushing the time back and adding more police,” and that she “thinks they will eventually phase out j’ouvert altogether.”

On a positive note there were no reported shootings or stabbings or incidents of violence during both J’ouvert and the parade at post time.