J’Ouvert festivities were back in full swing in Brooklyn for the first time in two years Sunday, and the NYPD along with local violence interrupters worked hard to keep the West Indian Day celebration peaceful.
Nonetheless, areas of Brooklyn outside the J’Ouvert festivities saw alcohol-fueled violence including several shootings that left five people injured, including one fatality.
Nearly 200 volunteers from the God Squad, East Flatbush Village and Elite Learners fanned out throughout the borough in an attempt to convince revelers to stay peaceful during this year’s celebration. Last year was relatively quiet because of COVID-19 sweeping through the area, killing thousands in the community. However, past celebrations have been marred by violence, mostly outside the parade perimeter.
Most notable in 2015, several people were shot on the J’ouvert route, including Carey Gabay, 43, first deputy counsel to then-Governor Andrew Cuomo. During that incident, commanders were within earshot of the shootings, but were helpless to prevent it.
Ahead of this year’s J’Ouvert, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell assigned more police officers to patrol the parade, and made entering the route tougher with checkpoints and magnetometers to prevent past shootings on the route. Also, cops were stationed on nearly every major street corner along the route and outside the perimeter.
All of the shootings and stabbings this year wound up occurring outside of the J’Ouvert vicinity.
J’ouvert-related incidents began at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night on Farragut Road and East 48th Street, where two people were stabbed during a violent dispute. Both were rushed to Kings County Hospital, where they were expected to survive, police from the 67th Precinct say.
Just before midnight, a 27-year-old man was shot in the stomach, arm and back by an unknown person during a raucous J’ouvert celebration in front of 471 East 96th St. He was rushed to Brookdale University Hospital where he is in stable condition.
Officers from the 67th Precinct say the victim was uncooperative with investigators; despite hundreds attending the event, few witnesses were willing to provide a description of the suspect, sources said.
The revelers continued the party as detectives investigated the shooting and collected spent shells under cups in the middle of the blood-soaked street. Talking with residents were members of the God Squad and Assemblywoman Monique Chandler-Waterman.
“We are out here with our volunteers to talk with people about how we can plan a safe night,” Chandler-Waterman said at the scene. “We take public safety as a shared responsibility with the NYPD and so we come out and try to bring peace to the community. I didn’t get the details about what happened here. We were hoping there would be no shootings, but it also doesn’t paint a picture of what is going on in our community made up of peaceful, loving people.”
Pastor Louis Straker Jr. of the God Squad said “the weekend celebration is supposed to be one that’s rich with the heritage of the Caribbean people.”
“It’s just unfortunate that these incidents happen that people can’t even enjoy their celebrations in peace and so we continue to move throughout the neighborhoods to try to make sure that the peace is kept,” Straker said, adding that many people over drink and get out of hand.
“But unfortunately there is always that one percent of bad actors that come in and harm our communities,” Straker added. “A young man is shot – it’s just a sad tragedy, but it is also not about who we are as a people.”
The heavy police presence and large numbers of volunteers helped quell the violence at many locations, officials say. The God Squad and East Flatbush Village set up a greeting site on Nostrand Avenue where they encouraged celebrants to refrain from violence.
Checkpoints proved successful, as celebrants were mostly cooperative with magnetometer wanding to prevent weapons from being brought into the parade route.
“I don’t really mind the wanding because I don’t want anyone coming here with a gun,” said Dalia Benson. “We just want to have a good time without anyone getting shot.”