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City Hall announces major revamp of Brooklyn’s J’Ouvert Festival

Plan Will Model West Indian Day Precursor After New Year’s Eve in Times Square

August 22, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: City Councilmember Jumaane Williams; J’Ouvert City International President Yvette Rennie; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio; NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill; NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan; Commander, Brooklyn South, Deputy Chief Steven Powers; NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert K. Boyce. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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Mayor Bill de Blasio joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and other senior NYPD officials on Monday to outline the city’s plan for a newer, safer J’Ouvert celebration scheduled for Labor Day morning.

“Last year, as everyone knows,” de Blasio began, “we attempted a series of major changes and a tremendous amount more police presence and additional resources, and yet we did not get the result we sought. Lives were lost and that’s unacceptable to all of us,” he concluded, speaking about the shooting deaths in 2016 of Tiarah Poyou and Tyreke Borel.

NYPD planning for the 2016 J’Ouvert, which constituted former Commissioner Bill Bratton’s last year heading the department, had been ambitious, bringing more officers and better street lighting onto Flatbush Avenue. But it left the early-dawn celebration itself untouched.

This year will be different.

“We’re going to have a very different plan for the J’Ouvert celebration this year,” de Blasio announced. “In fact, you’re going to see the same kind of measures we take on New Year’s Eve to create a much more controlled and orderly situation.”

Officials went on to outline several profound structural changes to the 2017 J’Ouvert, including a specific start time of 6 a.m. — in contrast to the more casual tradition of people gathering around 3 a.m. — restricted entrances to Grand Army Plaza that will require celebrants to pass through metal detectors to screen for weapons and relinquish any drugs or alcoholic beverages. Bags and backpacks will not be permitted.

NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan outlined further specifics: “What we’re going to be doing is shutting down, similar to Times Square, Empire from Flatbush down to Nostrand, Nostrand from Empire to Midwood. This is going to be a frozen zone. There will be 12 different entry points. They’re located on the map up on the screen, and over here people will be able to come through these entry points — you’ll go past the magnetometer. You’re not going to be able to carry any large bags in, similar to Times Square.”

“This isn’t just about the NYPD deciding what we’re going to have to do about J’Ouvert, this is the community coming together and collaborating,” added O’Neill.

As he did on the morning after the 2016 J’Ouvert, de Blasio expressed optimism that despite the problems associated with it, J’Ouvert would follow the examples set by the Puerto Rico and St. Patrick’s Day parades, which had also experienced violence and hooliganism in the past: “NYPD over the years fundamentally changed each of those situations. Nothing is perfect, but they are very, very different than they were say 20 or 30 years ago,” he said.

Williams, whose District 45 includes the J’Ouvert route, emphasized: “You cannot cancel J’Ouvert … It is not just a parade; it’s a cultural event.”

Although Williams has publicly disagreed with the mayor and commissioner about how much progress NYPD has been made toward accountability and transparency, his support for the city’s modified J’Ouvert was unequivocal: “The community is not blasé. They’re highly motivated to prevent recurrence,” he said.

Also present, and credited with having substantial input into planning the new J’Ouvert, was Yvette Rennie, president of J’Ouvert City International, which has organized J’Ouvert since 1984. “If we’re to keep our culture alive, this year must be different,” Rennie insisted.

“This holiday is not going away,” de Blasio agreed, alluding to suggestions made from some quarters in the wake of the 2016 J’Ouvert that the event simply be canceled.

Given J’Ouvert’s origin as a secret, unsanctioned celebration held in the small hours of the morning by slaves who risked punishment from their masters should they be discovered, City Hall’s decision to recreate the celebration in the form of its unequivocally successful New Year’s Eve in Times Square seems fair and sensible, especially when the alternative would likely entail authorities chasing down “guerilla J’Ouverts” in neighborhoods from Prospect Heights to East Flatbush.


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